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South America Venezuela to bring elections forward to April

VENEZUELA will bring presidential elections forward to April, the national constitutional assembly has decided.

President Nicolas Maduro’s term does not end till the beginning of next year but Diosdado Cabello, chair of the United Socialist Party (PSUV), has thrown down the gauntlet to the opposition as a sign of the government’s confidence following impressive gains in municipal elections last month.

“If the world wants to apply sanctions to us, we will apply elections,” he declared a day after the European Union aped Donald Trump’s White House in slapping sanctions on senior Venezuelan officials.

The Venezuelan people “have the right to decide their destiny and we demand respect for all our decisions,” he added.

Despite clean bills of health from international observers and an electoral system described by former US president Jimmy Carter as “the best in the world,” Venezuela’s opposition tends to cry foul after any election defeat — a chorus often taken up by the US and its allies.

Since his election in 2013, Mr Maduro’s government has been rocked by violent opposition uprisings that left 43 dead in the “guarimba” riots of 2014 and more than 120 dead last year.

Opposition bids to force a “recall referendum” that would see the president face re-election early collapsed late in 2016 after more than a third of signatures demanding one — more than 600,000 of 1.9 million, still well short of the four million required — were found to be fraudulent.

Mr Maduro told crowds today that he was ready to be the PSUV candidate again. “If the working class, women, youth believe that I should be the presidential candidate, I am at their command,” he said, pledging to stand against “imperialism and the right.”

But the party has not yet selected a candidate and some have suggested other names. Mr Cabello, regarded by some as an option, appeared to throw his weight behind the sitting president yesterday, saying “we have only one candidate to continue with the Bolivarian revolution.

“We are going to win united, as a single unitary force to continue [Hugo] Chavez’s legacy.”

The opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable has not picked a candidate either.

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