Venezuela Socialists snatch congress from Guaido; opposition denounces coup

Venezuela's government on Sunday used troops to block lawmakers from re-electing opposition leader Juan Guaido as congress chief, allowing the ruling Socialist Party to hand the post to a lawmaker recently expelled from the opposition.
The gambit was dismissed as a sham by opposition leaders and an official in Washington, who accused President Nicolas Maduro of snatching control of congress - the only major state institution not controlled by his allies.
Installing legislator Luis Parra as new congress chief may help Maduro to sideline Guaido, who led a 2019 opposition groundswell by assuming an interim presidency that has been recognized by more than 50 countries.
"We alert the world that the Maduro regime is seeking to carry out a parliamentry coup with (the Socialist Party) and swear in National Assembly leadership against the will of the parliamentary majority," tweeted opposition legislator Carlos Valero.
Legislators attempting to approach congress on Sunday told Reuters they had to pass through five sequential checkpoints of police and National Guard troops, where officials would slowly review credentials and at each stage refuse to allow some of them through.
Socialist Party legislators in the early afternoon took control of the session and nominated Parra as the new Congress chief, according to a Reuters witness.
They later said this was justified by the absence of lawmakers including Guaido, who in one video is shown unsuccessfully attempting to climb over a fence into the palace before being pushed back by troops.
Opposition leaders said legislators would re-elect Guaido in a separate legislative session at the headquarters of a local newspaper, paving the way for two separate Venezuelan parliaments with competing claims for legitimacy.
Following a confused melee on the floor of parliament, an impromptu vote was held through a show of hands but without counting each individual vote, as required by parliamentary regulations, according to the Reuters witness.
Venezuela's state television did not broadcast the vote.
It resumed live coverage amid an improvised swearing-in ceremony for Parra, who was expelled last year from opposition party First Justice for allegedly helping burnish the reputation of a businessman associated with Maduro's government.
Parra denies the accusations. Since his expulsion from First Justice, he has been harshly critical of Guaido's leadership. He and other legislators also ensnared in the corruption scandal have described themselves as being in "rebellion."
"We announced this morning before entering the legislative palace that the rebellion of the deputies ... would be clearly expressed," Parra said on Sunday in comments broadcast on state television.
A State Department official wrote via Twitter that the United States would continue to back Guaido as the country's legitimate leader.
"@JGuaido remains #Venezuela's interim president under its constitution," wrote Michael Kozak, assistant secretary for U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
"This morning's phony National Assembly session lacked a legal quorum. There was no vote."
Guaido's claim to the interim presidency rested on his position as president of the opposition-held National Assembly. He argued that Maduro's 2018 re-election was fraudulent, meaning the presidency was vacant and that the constitution dictated the head of parliament should take charge temporarily.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2020.
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