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Venezuela Bans Protests in Run-Up to Controversial Referendum

A demonstrator hols a sign that doubles a shield that reads in Spanish "It's for you," during a national sit-in against President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, May 15, 2017. Opposition leaders are demanding immediate presidential elections.
Ariana Cubillos/AP

Those caught protesting in Venezuela could face five to 10 years in prison. 

That's the radical measure that the government has taken to squash dissent in the run-up to a vote that could grant President Nicolás Maduro quasi-dictatorial powers, USA Today reports

The ban follows a nationwide strike by opposition members and will run into next week, leading up to the vote on Tuesday. 

Read More: 16 Powerful Photos of Political Corruption Protests in Venezuela

On Tuesday, the country will elect 545 representatives for a special constitutional assembly that could rewrite the constitution and dissolve state institutions, according to CNN

Critics argue that this move undermines the democratically-elected National Assembly and fear that the special election could be rigged. 

The president, meanwhile, is saying that the assembly is a chance for the country to have a reconcilitation after more than a year of violent protests, a cratering economy, rampant corruption, and widespread suffering. 

Opposition leaders plan to hold rallies and protests through the vote despite the possibility of arrest. 

Read More: Venezuelan Woman Hugs Soldier During Heartbreaking Mother’s Day Protest

"We will not kneel, we will not fail. We will fight," Freddy Guevara, vice president of the National Assembly, told reporters on Thursday evening.

Since protests intensified in April, more than 111 have been killed and 1,900 wounded, according to CNN