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Maduro supporters name new National Assembly head, block opposition from vote

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido climbs a fence in an attempt to enter the headquarters of the National Assembly as security forces prevented him from entering the National Assembly headquarters for a vote on whether to reelect him as the head of the parliamentary body. Photo by Rayner Pena/EPA-EFE
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido climbs a fence in an attempt to enter the headquarters of the National Assembly as security forces prevented him from entering the National Assembly headquarters for a vote on whether to reelect him as the head of the parliamentary body. Photo by Rayner Pena/EPA-EFE

Jan. 5 (UPI) -- The government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro swore in their own candidate for the head of its National Assembly while blocking out members of the opposition, including current National Assembly President Juan Guaido, who then held their own election.

Congressman Luis Parra was named the new National Assembly president by an assembly of only pro-government lawmakers without the session being formally declared open in what opposition officials described as a "parliamentary" coup.

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In the opposition-held election, Guaido was re-elected to another term as head of the National Assembly with a vote tally of 100 to none, stating they had "defeated the dictatorship" in doing so.

"I deeply regret the embarrassing show of the dictatorship to try to prevent the inevitable," he said in a statement, referring to the results of their opposition-held election. "Thank you, deputies, for standing and not selling your dignity even though you have been made exorbitant offers. Gentlemen of the dictatorship have already tried the way of ignoring Parliament, of besieging it, among other things, and it didn't work because here we are."

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But Maduro announced to the country that with Parra's election the National Assembly would be under "new leadership."

Prior to the vote on whether to re-elect Guaido as head of the National Assembly, security forces loyal to Maduro formed a cordon around the assembly building to prevent opposition lawmakers -- who hold a majority in the chamber -- from entering the building, while lawmakers loyal to Maduro were allowed inside.

At one point, Guaido attempted to climb the fence surrounding the building but was forced back by members of the National Guard armed with plastic shields and batons.

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"This is yet another proof that we live under a dictatorship, as if anyone had any doubt," Guaido told CNN. "Nevertheless we are going to do what we need to do and install the sole legitimate national assembly."

Constitutional experts and members of the Venezuelan opposition have decried Parra's appointment as illegitimate, citing National Assembly rules that require a quorum for the body to open business.

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Guaido named himself the country's interim president in January of last year, declaring Maduro's rule illegitimate, and has since received the backing of dozens of nations including the United States.

Parra, a former member of the opposition who was ejected from the party after a corruption scandal in December 2019, delivered remarks on state television after being sworn in.

"Today, we want to open doors to the future of this parliament," he said. "To the people that today expected a different message, we will continue to seek reconciliation."

Multiple countries that support Guaido have said they will not support Parra as the head of the National Assembly, including the European Union, who called the election of Parra in a statement "a new step in the deterioration of the Venezuelan crisis" and the Lima Group, which consists of more than a dozen mostly Latin America countries and Canada.

Michael Kozak, acting assistant secretary for western hemisphere affairs at the U.S. State Department, declared there was "no vote" on Sunday.

"The desperate actions of the former Maduro regime, illegally forcibly preventing Juan Guaido and the majority of the National Assembly deputies from entering the building, make this morning's 'vote,' which lacks quorum and does not meet minimum constitutional standards, a farce," he said.

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