Caracas (CNN)The fate of the only opposition-controlled political institution in Venezuela was left hanging on Sunday, as pro-government lawmakers claimed to swear in a new president of the National Assembly.
Guaido blocked from Venezuela's National Assembly vote
Shouts and fistfights erupted inside and outside the legislative palace, as security forces in riot gear prevented several opposition congressmen from entering the legislative palace, including opposition leader Juan Guaidó, the incumbent national assembly president.
Guaidó, who last year declared illegitimate the rule of Nicolás Maduro and swore himself in as the country's chief executive, had been expected to be re-elected as chief of the legislature. Instead, inside the palace, a little-known congressman named Luis Parra, was named to the role by a skeleton assembly of pro-government lawmakers. The decision came amid chaos inside the chamber, and without the session being formally declared open.
Constitutional experts and members of the Venezuelan opposition supporting Guaidó have said Parra's appointment is a sham. They cite National Assembly rules which require a quorum for the body to open for business. In the absence of a minimum number of lawmakers -- many of whom were blocked from entering the building -- procedure requires the National Assembly to form a "Preparatory Commission" to find ways to reactivate a voting session.
Parra was a member of the pro-Guaido opposition party Primero Justicia (Justice First) until December 2019, when a corruption scandal saw him ejected from the party.
Guaidó later tried to force his way into the legislative chamber by jumping on top of a fence, but was blocked by members of the National Guard branding plastic shields and batons.
Speaking to CNN, Guaidó urged the international community to take action, saying: "This is yet another proof that we live under a dictatorship, as if anyone had any doubt. Nevertheless we are going to do what we need to do and install the sole legitimate national assembly." The opposition leader is expected to hold an alternate session late Sunday in El Nacional's headquarters, one of Venezuela's oldest newspapers.
In a publicly televised address later on Sunday, embattled president Maduro recognized Parra and called for new elections for all seats of the National Assembly in 2020. "We aspire to recover the National Assembly with votes and we will achieve it," he said, alluding to the fact that the chamber is dominated by opposition lawmakers.
But dozens of other countries, including neighboring Colombia, have said they will not recognize Parra as president of the legislative body. And the US, which recognized Guaido as the country's legitimate leader last year, has vowed to support him, with Michael Kozak, the US State Department's Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, tweeting Sunday that Guaido "remains Venezuela's interim president under its constitution. This morning's phony national assembly session lacked a legal quorum. There was no vote."
Venezuela's Foreign Minister, Maduro loyalist Jorge Arreaza, responded to the US, tweeting: "We reject the Trump Administration's vulgar interventionism in Venezuela's internal affairs & institutions. They still don't understand that we're an independent and sovereign country."