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Venezuela parliament convenes, rejects new assembly's powers

Saturday, August 19, 2017

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AFP) – Venezuela's National Assembly convened Saturday in defiance of a declaration by the new Constituent Assembly that it was seizing full powers from the opposition-led legislature.

The move Friday by the Constituent Assembly, which is loyal to socialist President Nicolas Maduro, was angrily rejected by opposition leaders and has drawn widespread international condemnation as a power grab by Maduro loyalists.

"This fraudulent decision is null, the Constituent Assembly is null," Freddy Guevara, vice president of the National Assembly, told reporters.

He said the Constituent Assembly was acting in part to be able to approve contracts and obtain international financing amid the country's severe economic crisis.

Guevara warned that "we will not endorse contracts that violate the Constitution." But the government-friendly Supreme Court declared the National Assembly "in contempt" and said any of its decisions would be "null."

The Constituent Assembly -- in theory a temporary body meant to write a new constitution -- declared Friday that it had assumed sweeping powers to legislate in matters of security, economy, finances and sovereignty.

Leaders of the National Assembly invited foreign diplomats to attend the session Saturday, and representatives of the United States, the European Union, Argentina, Chile, Canada, Mexico, Peru and other countries did.

The move Friday drew widespread condemnation. The secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, declared it "illegitimate and unconstitutional."

The United States -- whose leader, President Donald Trump, has even raised the possibility of a "military option" in Venezuela -- has rejected the new body, as have Spain, Britain and the Mercosur trade group.

Political scientist Luis Salamanca said the Constituent Assembly's move was "expected," but noted that the ruling party did not dare declare the "definitive closure" of parliament.

"It would be a crude, hard dictatorial act," he told AFP.

But already, he said, "the government has usurped popular sovereignty and is liquidating democracy."

Maduro's opponents, angered by the economic crisis that is causing widespread hunger and shortages, have demanded his resignation.

Nearly 130 people have been killed this year in anti-government protests.

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