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Few Venezuelans turn out for municipal elections amid crisis

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Venezuela held municipal elections to elect some 2,500 counselors on Sunday, though the mainstream political opposition boycotted the vote and widespread apathy kept most people at home during a devastating economic crisis.

[CARACAS] Venezuela held municipal elections to elect some 2,500 counselors on Sunday, though the mainstream political opposition boycotted the vote and widespread apathy kept most people at home during a devastating economic crisis.

In Caracas and other cities around the country, many polling stations appeared near empty and few had queues. In interviews, Venezuelans said they preferred to use the day to shop for scarce food and medicine.

"People have no motivation. The crisis is a beating every day," said opposition lawmaker Francisco Betancourt in the city of Barinas, on Venezuela's west-central plains.

Venezuela is in its fifth year of a recession that has halved the size of the economy and forced 3 million people to emigrate to escape hyperinflation and rampant crime.

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Full results from Sunday's election are expected later today or tomorrow morning and the ruling Socialist Party is expected to dominate.

At the Escuela Josefa Victoriana Riera polling station in the arid northwestern city of Punto Fijo, only 366 people had voted by midday out of 2,510 registered voters, polling officials told Reuters, and a similar proportion was seen elsewhere.

The main opposition coalition also boycotted national elections in May, which President Nicolas Maduro won in a vote deemed a fraud by the United States, European Union and most other Latin American nations. Mr Maduro says he is a victim of a US-directed plot to force him from power and blames the crisis on sanctions imposed by Washington on his administration.

Even voters loyal to Mr Maduro said they were not satisfied with his handling of the crisis. Johan Matheus, a 46-year-old oil worker in Maracaibo, said he was voting so that "the revolution is consolidated".

However, he added: "It's necessary to make changes, because the economic situation is ugly."

Mr Maduro appeared on state television later in the day to cast his vote in Caracas.

"Despite the conspiracies that come from the White House to divide our country, we have a strong democracy," Mr Maduro said.

REUTERS