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UN Calls on Venezuela to Respect Protestors as Asylum Requests Soar


A group of pedestrians ask the activists blocking the avenue to let them cross the street during clashes between opposition demonstrators and riot police in Caracas on July 10, 2017.

The United Nations urged Venezuela's government Friday to respect the political opposition's right to protest as it notes a significant increase in asylum requests from the South American country.

More than 52,000 Venezuelans have applied for asylum in 2017 - already twice the number that applied in all of 2016, the U.N. Refugee Agency said Friday.

"We urge authorities to respect the wishes of those who want to participate in this consultation and to guarantee people's rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly," the UNHCR said in a statement, referring to a planned "symbolic vote" referendum.

The opposition has organized an unofficial "referendum" vote Sunday on President Nicolas Maduro's bid to hold a July 30 election for a new assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution.

"Following our rights, in the article 333 and 350 of our constitution we the people of Venezuela have decided to vote and decide the future of our country," Maria Corina Machado, Spokesperson for Venezuelan Opposition, told VOA Spanish.

"And it is a future of freedom, of peace, and democracy," she said, calling on Venezuelan citizens in the country and abroad to cast their votes.

Intense street demonstrations have roiled Venezuela's capital and other cities almost daily since early April, with protesters demanding that Maduro release political prisoners, schedule long-overdue elections and open access to humanitarian aid to offset severe shortages of food, medicine and other basic goods. At least 90 people have died in clashes among anti-government demonstrators, security forces and Maduro supporters.