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As protest toll rises, Venezuela's Maduro promises referendum

Venezuela will hold a referendum on a planned new constitution, President Nicolás Maduro said June 1, as he struggles to contain violent protests against the leftist government, which have claimed at least 62 lives since the supreme court dissolved the opposition-controlled national parliament two months ago.

Maduro, a former bus driver who succeeded former President Hugo Chávez after his death from cancer in 2013, said the referendum will give voters a chance to approve the new national charter to be produced by a constituent assembly, whose members are set to be elected in July, Reuters reported. Protests have broken out regularly across the capital Caracas against what opposition leaders have called a "coup," leading to clashes with security forces.

"I shall propose it explicitly: the new constitution will go to a consultative referendum so it is the people who say whether they are in agreement or not with the new, strengthened constitution," Maduro said, without saying when the vote would be held.

Venezuela has the world's largest proven oil reserves but the economy contracted by 10% in 2016 and one study indicated that food shortages have meant that three quarters of Venezuelans lost an average of almost 9 kg in weight over the past year.