Venezuelan opposition vows to form alternative gov't

    17 de julio de 2017

    Caracas, Jul 17 (efe-epa).- The MUD opposition alliance said Monday that it will form a national unity government after 98 percent of the more than 7 million Venezuelans who took part in an unofficial referendum voted against President Nicolas Maduro's plan for a constitutional convention.

    "On Wednesday we will take the first step toward formation of a government of national union," MUD's Freddy Guevara told a press conference.

    The opposition staged on Sunday a plebiscite on the Maduro administration's proposal for a National Constituent Assembly with authority to overhaul the 1998 constitution.

    More than 7.6 million people cast ballots, according to figures offered by Guevara, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly.

    Venezuela has 19.1 million eligible voters.

    Those who voted against the Constituent Assembly gave the opposition a "clear, resounding and undeniable mandate" to move forward with the creation of an alternative government, Guevara said.

    Besides rejecting the Constituent Assembly, an overwhelming majority of those who took part voted in favor of appealing to the military to uphold the existing constitution and endorsed the installation of a transitional government to oversee elections this year, ahead of the presidential ballot scheduled for 2018.

    If the administration refuses to call off elections to the Constituent Assembly, the opposition will "deepen the national political conflict until we achieve liberty," Guevara said hours after MUD convened a general strike for Thursday.

    Maduro, however, said that he would not back down over the Constituent Assembly, while members of his administration accused MUD of exaggerating the number of people who voted in the referendum.

    The leftist president seemed particularly irked by a statement from the European Union's top foreign policy official insisting that Caracas "suspend" the Constituent Assembly and suggesting that Venezuela could face EU sanctions.

    "Federica Mogherini, the European Union foreign minister, comes out today to give orders to the government of Venezuela. Insolent one, do you believe that we are in 1809 when we received orders from European empires. Venezuela is a free, sovereign country," Maduro said from the presidential palace.

    Jorge Rodriguez, who is mayor of the capital municipality of Libertador and head of the campaign for the Constituent Assembly, said earlier that MUD chose to treat votes on the three separate questions on the ballot as individual votes, multiplying the total participation by three.

    The actual number of voters was a little more than 2 million, Rodriguez said.

    In the same vein, Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada said that major global media outlets lied by inflating participation in the opposition referendum, though he did not offer any figures of his own.

    Among the offenders, the minister mentioned The New York Times, the BBC, Time magazine, Madrid daily El Pais, Spanish news agency EFE and Argentina's Clarin newspaper.