Venezuela referendum voter turnout was 'tampered with'

Venezuelan opposition leader pre-recorded video released after his arrestReuters

Turnout numbers for the controversial referendum in Venezuela were "tampered with", the company that provided the voting system has said.

Electoral authorities said more than eight million people cast their vote in the referendum on Sunday (30 July), but the CEO of Smartmatic, the company that provided 24,000 electoral machines, has said the vote was "manipulated" and that the actual turnout differed by at least 1 million.

"It is with the deepest regret that we have to report that the turnout numbers on Sunday 30th July for the Constituent Assembly in Venezuela were tampered with," Antonio Mugica told a news conference in London on Wednesday (2 August).

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"We estimate the difference between the actual participation and the one announced by authorities is at least 1 million votes," he added.

He said that Smartmatic was able to detect the fraud because of Venezuela's automated election system.

When asked why Smartmatic did not alert the Venezuelan authorities, Mugica said he thought they "would not be sympathetic" to what they had to say.

Venezuelans flocked to polling stations on Sunday to select more than 500 representatives to form a new constituent assembly. President Nicolas Maduro called the vote after months of violent protests against his government. He promised that a new assembly would bring "reconciliation and peace" to the country after months of political and economic turmoil.

Opposition leaders boycotted the vote and refused to field any candidates. They claim the president wanted to use the referendum to seize more power for himself.

Maduro's Constituent Assembly would have the power to annul legislation introduced by the opposition.

World leaders, including US President Donald Trump, have condemned Maduro's controversial plans to rewrite Venezuela's constitution.

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Trump called Maduro "a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator" and ignores "the strong and courageous actions" of his people.

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson accused Maduro of behaving like a "dictator of an evil regime" after two of the country's most prominent opposition leaders, Antonio Ledezma and Leopoldo Lopez, were seized from their homes by national security forces. Both leaders had called on Venezuelans to join protests against Maduro.

A video shared on Ledezma's Twitter account shows the former mayor of Caracas being dragged from his house in his pyjamas, while a woman in the background shouts "dictatorship".

At least 10 people were killed in protests on Sunday. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles described the situation as a "massacre."

Police officers help a colleague who caught fire after the explosion in CaracasLeo Ramirez/AFPTV
Police officers react after an explosive device exploded as they rode past during a protest against the elections for a Constituent Assembly in CaracasJuan Barreto/AFP
Venezuelans line up to cast their ballots at a polling station in Caracas. The opposition boycotted the voteRonaldo Schemidt/AFP

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