Trump admin hits Venezuela president with sanctions: 'He is now a dictator'

Candidate for Assembly, Three Others Killed in Venezuela on Election Day

"Sanction me as you wish, but the Venezuelan people have made a decision to be free and I am the independent president of a free nation". Anyone who participates in the new legislative superbody set up by Maduro could be exposed to future US sanctions for undermining democracy in Venezuela.

The Trump administration Monday froze assets, banned travel and prohibited Americans from dealing with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, calling him a dictator and accusing him of undermining democracy after he carried out an election Sunday for an all-powerful new legislative assembly in defiance of warnings from the worldwide community. The result would mean the ruling party won more support than it had in any national election since 2013, despite a cratering economy, spiraling inflation, shortages of medicine and malnutrition.

Although the opposition united to boycott the vote, guaranteeing victory for the country's socialist government, in reality the opposition parties remain divided and without a clear leader who is capable of inspiring Venezuelans. That would include Maduro's wife, Cilia Flores, and powerful congressman Diosdado Cabello, as well as lowly socialist party members with no US finances.

On Monday, the US Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated the president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, pursuant to an executive order that authorizes sanctions against current or former officials of the government of Venezuela and others undermining democracy in Venezuela.

Other options had included individual sanctions or various measures to restrict the Venezuelan government and state oil company PDVSA's access to the U.S. banking system. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The election of a constituent assembly on Sunday was held amid mass protests.

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The death of a candidate in Venezuela's highly contested elections taking place on Sunday is being investigated after a group of assailants entered his home and fired several shots, a local prosecutor has said, according to the Venezuelan Public Ministry. Seven police officers were wounded when a fiery explosion went off as they drove past piles of trash that had been used to blockade a street in an opposition stronghold in eastern Caracas.

The new assembly will have powers to rewrite the constitution and supersede other institutions, including the opposition-dominated congress. Lopez in particular has become the worldwide face of Venezuela's opposition, which is calling for early elections to replace Maduro amid a brutal economic crisis that has food and medicines running short.

"More than eight million in the middle of threats ... it's when imperialism challenges us that we prove ourselves worthy of the blood of the liberators that runs through the veins of men, women, children and young people". "This [8 million] number is impossible, it's total fraud", said opposition lawmaker Angel Alvarado, who told Reuters he monitored the turnout in a sprawling Caracas slum.

The electoral council's vote counts in the past had been seen as reliable and generally accurate, but the widely mocked announcement appeared certain to escalate the polarization and political conflict paralyzing the country. "I personally expected more forceful actions from opposition leaders".

A spokeswoman for the European Commission said: "A Constituent Assembly, elected under doubtful and often violent circumstances, can not be part of the solution".

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