Venezuelan oppostion lawmakers were attacked by pro-Maduro groups on the way to the legislative palace. Photo courtesy of National Assembly chief Juan Guaido/Twitter
Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Armed members of groups that support embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro attacked a convoy transporting opposition lawmakers to the National Assembly, preventing them from entering the legislative palace, officials said.
A video shared on the official Twitter account for opposition leader and Venezuela's self-appointed interim president Juan Guaido showed men pursuing the vehicle as one man attacked it with a pylon. A man is then seen emerging from the crowd before smashing the vehicle's back window, forcing its driver to speed away.
Carlos Eduardo Berrizbeitia, opposition lawmaker of the National Assembly, described the assailants as members of "armed paramilitaries and terrorist groups" that were organized by the Maduro regime.
The opposition-controlled assembly, the last democratically held institution in the country, has become a focal point in the political battle between Maduro and Guaido.
Last week, Maduro attempted to forcibly install his own candidate as head of the National Assembly while security forces physically barred opposition lawmakers from entering the building, preventing them from participating in the vote.
The opposition lawmakers held their own vote at a nearby newspaper, re-electing Guaido as National Assembly head. Days later, opposition lawmakers forced their way back into the assembly.
In a statement, the National Assembly said the lawmakers were met by a "fence" of more than 200 armed paramilitaries as they approached the legislative palace on Wednesday, forcing them to hold the meeting at the El Hatillo amphitheater, where they had a minute of silence for Oscar Perez, who was killed on Jan. 16, 2018, following a nine-hour battle with government forces.
Guaido described Wednesday's attack as a "brutal ambush."
"Not only did they take the federal legislative palace militarily, but they ambushed the deputies, the free press, the teachers. They were brutally ambushed," he said in a statement, adding that they were not only attacked with blunt objects but were shot at.
The Association of the Foreign Press in Venezuela said reporters covering the attack were met with "aggression."
"It is important to highlight that such attacks occurred under the gaze of the [Venezuelan] national police," the press organization said in a statement.
The attack comes as Maduro, the successor of Hugo Chavez, has managed to cling to power despite an increasing onslaught of sanctions and political pressure applied against his government by the United States since his 2018 re-election was deemed illegitimate early last year and Guaido appointed himself interim president.
The United States is one of more than 55 countries that have voiced support for Guaido's presidency.
On Monday, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned seven Venezuelan officials who participated in Maduro's attempt to install his own leader in the National Assembly, including Luis Parra, the man picked to helm the legislative palace.
The Maduro regime condemned the sanctions as "coercive measures" aimed at undermining "the proper functioning of the country's democratic institutions."
"These very serious unilateral actions are contrary to international law and threaten the stability, peace and self-determination of the Venezuelan people," the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry said in a statement.