U.S. sanctions Venezuelan officials to pressure Maduro

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The newly elected body would rewrite the 1999 constitution, the cornerstone of former President Hugo Chavez's "Bolivarian Revolution", which extended presidential term limits and allowed for indefinite re-elections.

Prosecutors said a 16-year-old boy also was killed in Wednesday's disturbances in Caracas. Venezuela is but the latest example as it descends into chaos and human misery. And it would shift to an all-out dictatorship under Maduro.

There is tension inside the White House about which additional measures to adopt, and whether to wait to see how Venezuela's constitutional issue plays out, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Even the attorney general, longtime government loyalist Luisa Ortega, came out against Maduro and his plans, saying it was illegal to create such a body without a referendum. USA officials have briefed lawmakers on their plans in recent weeks, including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

"After more than 60 years of continuous service in Venezuela, at Avianca we regret that we had to arrive at this hard decision, but our responsibility is to guarantee the safety of operations", said Hernán Rincon, chief executive of Avianca. This move has not only angered the opposition, which has called for a boycott of Sunday's election, but it has split Maduro's own ranks.

The senior official reiterated the USA threat after Washington imposed sanctions on 13 senior officials of Venezuela's government, military and state oil company PDVSA.

Among those sanctioned were national elections director Tibisay Lucena, PDVSA finance vice president Simon Zerpa, former PDVSA executive Erik Malpica, and prominent former minister Iris Varela.

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And global outcry only goes so far: The prospect of hitting Venezuela with worldwide sanctions is limited at the UN by the country's ties with China and Russian Federation, and at the Organization of American States (OAS) by loyalty from Caribbean nations who have benefited from cheap oil sales from Venezuela in the past, O'Neil says. And at times, those security forces have used deadly force.

But it brings to 105 the number of people killed in four months of violent anti-Maduro protests, being capped with a two-day national strike. And now there's also a general strike underway. "I will be on strike for 48 hours", told AFP Maria Auxiliadora, who lives in the wealthy neighbourhood of Chacao. Many Venezuelans were stocking up on food on Tuesday in anticipation of closed shops and trouble, worsening already extremely long lines at supermarkets and ATMS.

The usually bustling streets of Caracas were silent early Wednesday as the strike paralyzed parts of the capital.

Venezuela's currency reserves have dwindled to under $10 billion as the government keeps up debt repayments at the expense of imports to stave off a crippling default.

The Trump administration announced sanctions on Wednesday against Venezuela, meant to pressure President Nicolas Maduro to drop plans for a controversial election.

REEVES: Well, there's no outward sign of him backing down.

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