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A demonstrator takes cover while clashing at a rally during a strike called to protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela, July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares


By Brian Ellsworth

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan opposition sympathizers on Friday prepared to block streets as part of a broader mobilization against a legislative superbody to be elected on Sunday that critics call a plan by President Nicolas Maduro to create dictatorship.

The election of the constituent assembly has been broadly condemned by countries around the world as a weakening of democratic governance in the OPEC nation, which is also struggling under a crippling economic crisis.

The United States this week sanctioned a group of ruling Socialist Party officials amid warnings of further economic sanctions if the vote goes ahead, and the U.S. Embassy ordered family members of staff to leave the country.

Maduro says the 545-member assembly, which will have the power to rewrite the constitution and dissolve state institutions, will bring peace to the country after four months of opposition protests that have left 111 people dead.

The opposition has told supporters to run errands and buy food on Friday morning following a two-day national strike and to begin blocking streets after mid-day.

"The people remain in the streets! This (28th of July) we will reject the constitutional fraud with a takeover of Venezuela!" tweeted the opposition's Democratic Unity coalition.

(For graphics on Venezuela's economic crisis and anti-government protests see: http://tmsnrt.rs/2pPJdRb and http://tmsnrt.rs/2ujuylf)

Opposition leaders have said they will protest against Sunday's vote, raising the spectre of further violence given that the government banned protests from Friday to Tuesday.

"Venezuela's ban on protests will do nothing but worsen an already incredibly volatile situation," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, in a statement.

The state prosecutor's office said a police officer in the western state of Merida died on Friday morning after receiving a gunshot wound on Thursday.

As well as ordering relatives to leave, the U.S. State Department also authorized the voluntary departure of any U.S. government employee at its embassy in Caracas.

Adding to Venezuela's growing international isolation, Colombian airline Avianca suddenly stopped operations in the country on Thursday due to "operational and security limitations."

(Additional reporting by Girish Gupta; Editing by W Simon)

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