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Maduro censures new U.S. sanctions on Venezuela as 'illegal'

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Airline Avianca announces in a press release that it will no longer fly to Venezuela

- The U.S. government has imposed sanctions on 13 senior Venezuelan officials as pressure mounts on President Nicolás Maduro ahead of a controversial vote for a new constituent assembly, BBC News reports.

In addition, penalties will apply to several members of Venezuela's national guard, police and other security services, including Interior Minister Nestor Luis Reverol Torres, who was indicted previous year by the Justice Department for his alleged role in an global cocaine distribution conspiracy.

The fresh sanctions were meant to dissuade Maduro from holding a controversial election, scheduled for Sunday, for a constituent assembly charged with overhauling the country's charter, Trump administration officials said.

More than 100 people have been killed in protest-related violence, since nearly daily anti-government protests began on April 1.

Just 21 of the killings have resulted in an arrest or orders for apprehension issued, with almost half those coming against security forces.

Meanwhile, some parts of the opposition have called for a boycott of the election and have rejected Maduro's repeated calls for dialogue.

A 30-year-old man was killed on Wednesday at a protest in Ejida, in the western state of Merida. The deaths raised to 105 the number of people killed since April 1 in clashes with security forces.

Supporters of the opposition and the Maduro government skirmished in the streets, with overnight volleys of tear gas, rubber bullets and homemade bombs arcing through the air in the capital.

Barricades made from debris dotted eastern Caracas and signs were up that read "No more dictatorships!"

He warned that anybody who is elected to the Constituent Assembly could also be slapped with United States sanctions. The crisis will worsen.

"No one wants to keep living under Maduro's regime", tweeted Richard Blanco, a National Assembly member representing Caracas. But if demonstrations didn't end when he released opposition leader Leopoldo López from prison this month - to house arrest - then they won't stop in another 45 days.

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Benjamin Netanyahu , the Israeli prime minister, is under similar pressure from the Right-wing of his own coalition government. The guard opened fire after he was stabbed with a screwdriver outside the Israeli embassy in Amman on Sunday night.

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With crippling shortages of basic goods and soaring inflation, protest organizers claimed 92 per cent of businesses and workers support the strike.

Global pressure on the regime in Caracas also ratcheted up this week.

The global community has broadly condemned the vote, and the United States on Wednesday announced sanctions against 13 current and former officials for corruption, undermining democracy, and participating in repression.

Maduro called the United States punishment "illegal, insolent and unprecedented".

He has warned the Organization of American States not to intervene in Venezuela, saying that would surely bring on civil war.

In October 2016, Avianca temporarily suspended its Venezuela flights after a weird incident in which a Venezuelan military jet intercepted a Boeing 787 operated by the carrier.

Some 70% of Venezuelans are opposed to Maduro's plan for a Constituent Assembly, according to polling firm Datanalisis.

Thousands of Venezuelans loaded with heavy bags have crossed the border into Colombia this week, fleeing the unrest.

"After more than 60 years of continuous service in Venezuela, at Avianca we regret that we had to arrive at this hard decision, but our responsibility is to guarantee the safety of operations", said Hernán Rincon, chief executive of Avianca.

At the same time, Maduro's administration is being squeezed by the long-running economic crisis.

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