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Venezuela opposition delays protest until Friday

Venezuela's opposition postponed a protest against a powerful new assembly backed by President Maduro until the body opens Friday, amid international condemnation and a fraud investigation.

The Democratic Unity Roundtable made an announcement on Twitter that the protest would be pushed back to coincide with the planned opening of the controversial Constituent Assembly, which Maduro earlier announced would be delayed until Friday.

The dissident group said Friday’s protest was being held “to defend the constitution.”

The new 545-member body — whose members include Maduro’s wife and son — will have sweeping powers to dissolve the opposition-majority congress, pass laws and write a new constitution.

Despite months of violent protests and international condemnation, Maduro insists it is the solution to a drawn-out economic and political crisis gripping Venezuela.

The leftist leader said the assembly would open “in peace and calm” at 11:00 am (1500 GMT) Friday.

Opposition lawmakers, who are in the majority in the National Assembly, say they will not recognize “the fraudulent and illegitimate” Constituent Assembly.

Voting for the assembly took place Sunday amid spiraling violence that killed 10 people, pushing the toll in four months of clashes at anti-Maduro protests to more than 125 people dead.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega, one of Maduro’s most outspoken critics, opened an investigation into what she called scandalous electoral fraud after the technology firm hired to handle the vote said the official results had been “tampered with” to make turnout appear greater than it was.

Ortega said the company’s assessment was just “one more element of the fraudulent, illegal and unconstitutional process” initiated by the socialist ruler.

The electoral authority itself — criticized as a Maduro mouthpiece — denied the vote-tampering allegation as “an irresponsible contention based on estimates with no grounding in the data.”

Sunday’s vote brought the crisis to a boiling point, drawing international condemnation.

In the aftermath of the vote, the United States imposed direct sanctions on Maduro, calling him a “dictator,” while the European Union joined the US, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina in saying it would not recognize the new assembly.

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