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Venezuela's parliament dismisses power grab

August 20, 2017

The democratically elected congress has rejected being stripped of power, saying they are resisting "an armed military dictatorship." The international community has condemned the power grab by a pro-government assembly.

Foreign diplomats meet with opposition lawmakers
Freddy Guevara (left), first vice president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, meets with ambassadors and diplomatic personnel in Caracas on August 19Image: Reuters/C.G. Rawlins

Venezuela's opposition-held parliament, dubbed the National Assembly, convened on Saturday after the all-powerful constituent assembly seized the legislature's powers.

National Assembly Vice President Freddy Guevara rejected the new pro-government body's power grab, saying the opposition-held congress would not give in.

"This is a congress in resistance of an armed military dictatorship that took over its authority and gained militarily what it could not gain at the ballot box," said Guevara during a special session of the National Assembly.

Read more: What is Venezuela's constituent assembly?

Foreign diplomats representing the US, EU, Argentina, Chile, Canada, Mexico and Peru, among others, attended the special session.

Regional powers and the international community have condemned the constituent assembly's move, with Organization of American States Secretary-General Luis Almagro declaring it "illegitimate and unconstitutional."

The pro-government constituent assembly occupied the parliament's building for sessions earlier this month
The pro-government constituent assembly occupied the parliament's building for sessions earlier this monthImage: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Cubillos/AP

Political crisis

The all-powerful constituent assembly was elected in July despite a boycott from opposition lawmakers. The electoral process has been marred by allegations that the government altered the number of votes by approximately a million ballots, according to Smartmatic, the firm that provided the voting technology.

Read more: Is Cuba really pulling the strings in Venezuela?

The opposition took control of congress during the 2015 legislative elections. The government of President Nicolas Maduro had previously attempted to unseat the opposition by stripping the legislature of power.

A Supreme Court ruling in late March triggered mass anti-government protests, prompting Venezuela's top court to rescind their decision within days. However, the pro-government constituent assembly's decision appears to be sticking.

Blaming US 'empire' 

Near-daily protests that drew thousands to Venezuela's streets in anger at the presidency have subsided since the beginning of the month, with some analysts pointing to US President Donald Trump's remarks about a "military option" to curb the government crackdown.

Analysts believe the US president's remarks earlier this month played into Maduro's assertion that the Washington "empire" wants to invade Venezuela. Maduro has blamed the country's woes, including chronic shortages of food, medicine and basic goods on a supposed US-led plot against Venezuelan leadership. 

Nearly 130 people have been killed and hundreds more injured or detained since April, when anti-government protests erupted in response to the Supreme Court decision.

Unlike his charismatic predecessor Hugo Chavez, Maduro has witnessed his support nosedive after failing to redress the country's severe economic crisis.

ls/kl (AFP, Reuters)