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An opposition supporter touches a Venezuelan flag during a vigil in homage to victims of violence at past protests against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela, July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares


GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations called on Venezuela's government on Friday to let people take part in an unofficial referendum on the constitution and make sure security forces do not use excessive force against protestors.

Opposition groups have called the plebiscite on Sunday, saying Venezuelans should have their say on President Nicolas Maduro's plan to rewrite the constitution.

"We urge authorities to respect the wishes of those who want to participate in this consultation and to guarantee people’s rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly," U.N. human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell told a Geneva news briefing. 

Applications for asylum by Venezuelan nationals have "soared", with 52,000 lodged already this year against 27,000 all of 2016, the U.N. refugee agency said, adding that it represented "only a fraction" of those in need of refuge.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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