U.S. slaps sanctions on 13 current, former top Venezuela officials

Venezuela's Maduro slams 'insolent' US sanctions

The United States has hit 13 current and former Venezuelan officials with sanctions, freezing the assets and putting a travel ban on Reverol, military brass, the president of the electoral council, and the finance chief of state oil company PDVSA.

Maduro accused the USA of fomenting the unrest against him and his government, with the help of the conservative opposition. Its No. 1 demand is conventional elections, including for the presidency, to remove Maduro.

As he was hitting back the USA over the newly imposed sanctions, a 30-year-old man was killed but gunfire in a demonstration in the west of the country, followed by the death of a 16-year-old boy protesting against the regime.

Venezuela's currency reserves have dwindled to under United States dollars 10 billion as the government keeps up debt repayments at the expense of imports to stave off a crippling default.

"As President Trump has made clear, the United States will not ignore the Maduro regime's ongoing efforts to undermine democracy, freedom and the rule of law", US Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement.

In announcing the USA sanctions, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said America was "standing by the Venezuelan people in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy".

A two-day general strike was organized by the opposition in defiance of the vote. "Nevertheless, we as part of the hemispheric community of nations can not stand by as human rights are trampled and citizens are arrested and attacked for expressing their opinions".

In addition to the strike, the opposition has vowed to continue to stage protests, including a massive march scheduled to take place in Caracas on Friday.

The United States chose to target individuals for alleged human rights abuses, undermining democracy and corruption, while sparing the country for now from broader financial or "sectoral" sanctions against its vital oil industry - though such actions, the officials told Reuters, are still under consideration.

Neighbors gathered from dawn in cities around Venezuela to block roads with rubbish, stones and tape, while many cafes and businesses remained closed in protest against the ruling Socialist Party's planned Constituent Assembly vote.

"On July 30, the constituent (assembly) will go ahead with the vote of the people", he said in a televised broadcast.

"It's the only way to show we are not with Maduro".

Maduro critics launched the 48-hour strike Wednesday morning, deploring the possibility that their President could gain more sweeping powers.

Thirteen countries in the 35-member Organization of American States, a regional political bloc, have also urged Maduro to suspend the election.

Avianca said on Wednesday it will suspend flights to and from Venezuela beginning on August 16, amid operational and security difficulties, the latest commercial carrier to pull out of the crisis-hit socialist country. It cited security concerns for the move.

Thousands of Venezuelans have fled into neighboring Colombia this week, while many of those who stayed behind believe ousting Maduro is their only hope.

"The elections are on Sunday and we really don't know what will happen", said one, Maria de los Angeles Pichardo, who left with her husband and son.

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