Fistfights have broken out in the Venezuela parliament, leaving one lawmaker bloodied and bruised. The unrest highlights the nation's ongoing dispute over last month's election results.
Venezuelan parliamentarians came to blows when protesting a measure from the government-controlled National Assembly to block the opposition's right to speak until they recognized President Nicolas Maduro's recent election victory.
The opposition said they were attacked and injured by members of the ruling socialist party, while government legislators blamed their "fascist" rivals for instigating the violence.
"We knew the opposition came to provoke violence," Maduro said. "This must not be repeated."
Tuesday's brawl highlights the South American country's deep divide in the wake of former socialist leader Hugo Chavez's death last month. The 50-year-old Maduro, hand-picked as Chavez's successor, won Venezuela's ensuing April 14 presidential vote, beating opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by 1.5 percentage points.
But Capriles, 40, has refused to accept the results of the election, alleging that thousands of irregularities occurred and that the vote was "stolen."
On Monday authorities began a partial audit of the election, but the opposition has called the move insufficient. Capriles said he will not accept anything less than a full recount, something the National Electoral Board has insisted is impossible to carry out.
In another potential source of conflict, the government and opposition are planning separate marches in the capital Caracas Wednesday celebrating International Worker's Day.
Right to speak blocked
The fight erupted after the assembly passed a measure denying the opposition the right to speak in the chamber until Maduro was recognized as president.
"Until they recognize the authorities, the institutions of the republic, the sovereign will of our people, the opposition deputies will have to go and speak [to the private media] but not here in this National Assembly," said Diosdado Cabello, the head of parliament.
In a video obtained by pro-opposition private broadcaster Globovision, which it said was obtained from a parliamentarian, various assembly members could be seen hitting one another and scuffling while others shouted "stop."
Opposition assembly member Julio Borges (pictured) appeared on local TV with one side of his face bloodied and swollen shortly after the melee, which took place behind closed doors without media being present.
"They can beat us, jail us, kill us, but we will not sell out our principles," he said. "These blows give us more strength."
Venezuela has been on edge since the controversial April 14 election. At least eight people died in street protests a day after the vote, while many more have been arrested in what the opposition is calling a wave of repression. Maduro, meanwhile, has accused the opposition of planning a coup.
Former colonial ruler Spain has offered to serve as mediator between the government and opposition, but Maduro shot down the move with a strongly-worded rejection to Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo.
"Mr. Foreign Minister, get your snout out of Venezuela … Just get out of here, you impertinent Spanish foreign minister," he said. "Respect Venezuela."
dr/ipj (Reuters, AFP, AP)