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Maduro denies ‘enemy’ charge of rigging Venezuela vote

Facing blistering condemnation at home and abroad, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro denied Wednesday that the vote for a powerful new assembly was rigged, calling the accusation a “reaction by the international enemy.”

Maduro faces mounting accusations of trampling on democracy in Venezuela with Sunday’s controversial election for an all-powerful “Constituent Assembly” — most recently by the British technology firm contracted to handle the vote.

The firm, Smartmatic, said in a London news conference that the official figures from the election were “tampered with” to make turnout appear greater than it was.

The embattled leftist leader rejected the charge.

“Nothing can stain this process, because it’s transparent,” he said at a ceremony for allies elected to the new assembly, vowing electoral authorities would carry out a “100 percent audit.”

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.”

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 assembly was originally due to start work Thursday, but Maduro postponed the launch to Friday in the face of opposition plans for massive protests.

“It has been proposed that the installation of the National Constituent Assembly, instead of being held tomorrow, be organized in peace and calm, with all necessary protocol, on Friday at 11:00 am (1500 GMT),” he said.

He said the reason for the delay was that 35 newly elected members had not yet been officially declared by electoral authorities.

Venezuela has been rocked by four months of clashes at anti-Maduro protests that have left more than 125 people dead.

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

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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