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Opposition ends decades of socialist rule in Venezuela

After 17 years of socialist majority in the National Assembly, the opposition MUD party has assumed majority rule. The new assembly president promised to oust leader Nicolas Maduro within six months.

For the first time in nearly two decades, an opposition party took control of Venezuela's parliament on Tuesday. However, with three lawmakers suspended over allegations of electoral fraud, President Nicolas Maduro's opponents failed to gain the supermajority they had hoped for.

The hours leading up to the first session of the newly elected National Assembly saw intense quarreling between the opposition coalition MUD party and Maduro's socialist PSUV, prompting the PSUV deputies to stage a walkout immediately after their swearing-in.

The socialists had ruled the oil-rich South American nation for 17 years after late President Hugo Chavez had come to power, and ever since MUD

won a two-thirds supermajority

of 112 seats from a possible 167 in December, Maduro has sought to check their powers.

Maduro seeks to curb MUD support

Last week, the country's Supreme Court upheld the president's request to suspend three MUD legislators pending investigation into misconduct. At the same time, one of Maduro's own PSUV politicians was being probed for the same crime, leaving only 163 of the 167 lawmakers in the National Assembly chamber on Tuesday.

The president then issued a number of executive orders on Monday, including one stripping the National Assembly of its power to appoint board members to the country's central bank.

Incoming parliamentary president Henry Ramos, who had to push his way through the unruly crowd to accept his gavel, used his opening remarks to renew calls to find a constitutionally sound way to remove Maduro from power.

On top of ousting Maduro, whom they view as corrupt, MUD has also proposed a new law to free imprisoned opposition figures, whom many human rights groups view as political prisoners. Outgoing assembly president Diosdado Cabello, however, accused MUD of having "assassins pardoning themselves."

Ramos, however, wanted to make it clear in his first address that Maduro's days of using executive action to curb opposition power were over.

"Nobody should think that's the way to solve the country's problems," he said. "We are not going to be a counterweight, but nor are we going to be a subordinate power like this National Assembly has been until yesterday at midnight."

es/rc (AP, AFP)

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