US Considers Banning Oil Imports From Venezuela, A Top Supplier

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas

The Venezuelan government has rejected U.S. pressure to cancel a Constitutional initiative or face additional "economic sanctions".

Maduro's attacks against the United States occurred less than a week after the head of state claimed to be seeking "a relationship of respect between the American and Venezuelan governments". Opponents are boycotting the election on July 30.

The conservative opposition, which has the backing of the USA, has opposed the initiative and even organised an informal poll on Sunday to gauge support.

US President Donald Trump has warned Venezuela of strong and swift economic actions if the country's ruling party goes ahead with plans to rewrite the its constitution.

In February, the Trump administration imposed sanctions against Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, accusing him of playing a major role in global drug trafficking - a charge he denies.

Around a third of the country's crude production is exported to the USA, and a White House official on Tuesday said "all options are on the table" to punish Maduro if the election goes ahead.

Maduro has vowed to punish "conspirators" who try to stop him, and the country's military has reaffirmed its loyalty to the president by saying it would protect the polling for the Constituent Assembly.

Venezuelans have launched a massive national strike as pressure builds on President Nicolas Maduro over his controversial plan to consolidate power.

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Mr Maduro has portrayed his plan to have a Constituent Assembly rewrite the Constitution as the only available path to "peace" and economic recovery.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer called on Miraflores to cancel the ANC and convene "free and fair elections".

"There are now about 15,000 Cubans in Venezuela", he said.

"For Mariano Rajoy, (the opposition plebiscite) is a legal referendum in relation to the state and to the Constitution, but the referendum of the people of Catalonia to decide their status before the Spanish state is not legal", he added.

"The fear we have, and which we are afraid to say out loud, is that this situation could turn into a bloodbath", he said. "This has to be fixed, we can't live our lives this way, blocking here, blocking there, they're blocking the streets to their same people", an elderly man told teleSUR.

While there were some reports of violence, the dry run vote was largely carried out in a festive mood. "Today a new machine has been born, one that will push forward a new history, a new dawn".

The results showed almost 98% of voters said they were against the move to re-write the country's constitution. But the vote wasn't sanctioned by the country's National Electoral Council (CNE), which has shut down every opposition-led project and even nullified electoral wins over the last few years.

Venezuelans in other parts of the world as far as Miami, New York City and Spain also participated in the non-binding referendum.

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