Gunmen in Venezuela shot into a crowd of voters on Sunday, activists said, killing one woman and wounding three others during an unofficial referendum organised by the opposition to push for an end to two decades of socialist rule. The opposition Democratic Unity coalition said a pro-government “paramilitary” gang opened fire in Caracas’ poor neighbourhood of Catia, where thousands were participating in the event. Video footage showed people scattering as gunshots rang out, many taking sanctuary inside a church. “The day was stained by the killing of a Venezuelan woman who was protesting and exercising her rights,” said opposition leader Freddy Guevara of the killing of Xiomara Escot. “But violence cannot hide what has happened. The people are not afraid and are clear in their decision.“
Sunday’s symbolic poll, which asked voters’ opinion on President Nicolas Maduro’s plan for a controversial new congress, was aimed at denting his legitimacy further amid a crippling economic crisis and months of anti-government protests in which 100 people have been killed.
Maduro, 54, has denounced the plebiscite as illegal and meaningless. Instead, the former bus driver and union leader is campaigning for an official vote on 30 July in support of the proposed new assembly, which would have the power to rewrite the constitution and dissolve state institutions.
The opposition cast Sunday’s unofficial referendum as an act of civil disobedience that will be followed by “zero hour,” a possible reference to a national strike or other action against the president.