Nicolas Maduro bars opposition from next year's vote

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But the president insisted that boycott would cost the opposition dearly: "A party that has not participated today and has called for the boycott of the elections can not participate any more".

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said that the country's main opposition parties were banned from taking part in next year's presidential election, the media reported.

Venezuela's ruling socialist party has swept most state capitals and major cities in Sunday's mayoral elections that were boycotted by several opposition parties. He is expected to be the Socialists' candidate in the 2018 presidential election and still maintains support among party loyalists like retiree Jose Flores, 71.

Opposition leader Juan Pablo Guanipa had won that governorship in October, but the election was annulled and he was barred from holding office after he refused to swear allegiance to the pro-Maduro legislative superbody.

"A presidential election can not be legitimate if candidates and parties can not freely participate", she added in a statement.

Despite the low turnout in Caracas, Chavistas appeared jubilant on election day and the president of the government-supporting Constituent National Assembly (ANC), Delcy Rodriguez, declared that the election was a sign of a "vigorous democracy" here.

The National Constituent Assembly - a legislative body aligned with Maduro's party - was sworn into office in August despite months of deadly protests and global condemnation. "They are desperate to legitimize this election".

Venezuela remains a country in crisis, with rampant inflation and shortages of food and medicine, which has forced tens of thousands to flee the country.

The main opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition has been battered by crushing defeats in regional and municipal polls and in-fighting over how to deal with Maduro, following months of violent protests that failed to unseat him and left 125 people dead.

"What happened today wasn't an election, and no one will see it as such", said the hardline opposition party Popular Will, which boycotted the vote.

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