Shots fired at people voting outside church in Venezuela

Violence during protests in Venezuela Credit Diariocritico de Venezuela via Flickr CC BY 20 CNA 2 Violence during protests in Venezuela. | Diariocritico de Venezuela via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Armed civilians who support the Venezuelan regime opened fire against a large crowd of protestors who were participating in a symbolic referendum in Caracas on Sunday.

The incident forced hundreds to seek refuge inside Our Lady of Mount Carmel church where they stayed until the local archbishop Cardinal Jorje Urosa Savino mediated their safe exit. One person died from gunshot wounds and several others were injured.

Swaths of locals who oppose the current leadership called for a "consultation of the people" on July 16 to protest President Nicolas Maduro's plans to rewrite the country's constitution on July 30. Some 7 million people participated in Sunday's protest.

In the wake of Nicolas Maduro succeeding former socialist president Hugo Chavez after the latter died from cancer in 2013, the country has been marred by violence and social upheaval.

Poor economic policies, including strict price controls, coupled with high inflation rates, have resulted in a severe lack of basic necessities such as toilet paper, milk, flour, diapers and medicines.

Venezuela's socialist government is widely blamed for the crisis. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap and flour, have meant that while they are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates.

The Venezuelan government is known to be among the most corrupt in Latin America, and violent crime in the country has spiked since Maduro took office.

On July 16, Cardinal Urosa had celebrated Mass in the church located in the Catia section of Caracas. The incident took place following the service.

Father Erick Tovar, pastor of Our Lady of Carmel Church, told CNA that "the voting process was going on just fine. The crowd coming from Catia was huge. There was a celebration because of the fact that they could express themselves."

Unfortunately, he continued, and "in the lackadaisical sight of the National Guard and the National Police, they started shooting. One person died and several were injured."

The shots forced many to enter the church and in order to obtain their safe exit the Archbishop of Caracas intervened.

"We had gotten all the people out of the church. The cardinal did not want to leave till everyone who was there had left," Fr. Tovar said. "These are the final abuses of the regime."

In concluding the Angelus prayer this Sunday at the Vatican, Pope Francis said he is keeping the people of Venezuela in his prayers.

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