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17 July 2017, 05:55 | Erica Roy
Juan Medina Reuters
A woman prepares to vote during an unofficial plebiscite against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government
More than seven million Venezuelans voted in Sunday's unofficial referendum held by the opposition to put pressure on President Nicolas Maduro and reject his plan to rewrite the constitution, monitors said.
"Today, Venezuela stood up with dignity to say freedom does not go backwards, democracy is not negotiated", Julio Borges, who leads the opposition-controlled legislature, said shortly after vote results were announced.
The almost 7.2 million votes "confirmed the reason why Maduro is afraid of elections that are mandated by our constitution", National Assembly President Julio Borges wrote on Twitter.
Results showed 98.5 per cent of respondents voted in favour of the armed forces protecting the constitution following the decisions of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which was declared in contempt by the Supreme Court past year, stripping it of its powers.
The opposition released only turnout numbers Sunday night, not tallies of responses to those questions, although virtually all who voted were believed to have answered "yes" to the central rejection of the constitutional rewrite.
The central question before voters concerned Maduro's intention to hold an election on July 30 to choose 545 members of a citizens' body called the "Constituent Assembly" that would redo the constitution.
Earlier results suggest more than 95 percent of those who cast their ballot were expected to back the opposition. Instead, he called for an end to the violence, which he blamed on the opposition.
"I'm calling on the opposition to return to peace, to respect for the constitution, to sit and talk", Maduro said. "Let's start a new round of talks, of dialogue for peace".
The death brought to 96 the number of people who have died in almost four months of protests and political agitation in Venezuela's streets. More than 500 people have been detained.
The dry run for the Venezuela National Constituent Assembly has received an unexpectedly high turnout, reported Telesur, a state-sponsored pro-government news outlet.
The figure obtained by the opposition, however, is lower than the 7,587,579 votes secured by Maduro in the presidential elections of 2013, when he beat opposition leader Henrique Capriles by less than two percentage points.
Several Latin American countries and the Catholic Church have criticized Maduro's move to redraft the constitution.
Analysts said the 7,186,170 ballots the opposition says were cast across Venezuela and around the world on Sunday was an impressive show of support.
The opposition's unofficial poll attempts to determine what Venezuelans think about key criticisms against Maduro's regime - that Venezuela's institutions, including security forces and the Supreme Tribunal of Justice top court, work in Maduro's favor; that the National Assembly has been stripped of power; and that a majority of Venezuelans support the removal of Maduro as president.
Meanwhile, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada said on VTV government TV that he was declaring former Mexican President Vicente Fox persona non grata and banning him from the country for conspiring to instigate violence and foreign intervention.
There are emerging fractures within the ruling clique, which controls most institutions in the state outside the weakened national assembly.
Results of the unofficial referendum organized by Venezuela's opposition showed that 98.4 percent of the voters reject the formation of the National Constituent Assembly to change the Constitution.
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