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Venezuela: Guaido blocked from congress in 'coup' attempt as impasse deepens

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Venezuela: Guaido blocked from congress in 'coup' attempt as impasse deepens
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Federico Parra / AFP
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Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido was violently blocked Sunday from presiding over a special session of congress where rivals tried to install a substitute in what was condemned as a hijacking of the country's last democratic institution.

Hours later, however, a majority of congress members held an emergency meeting at an opposition newspaper office and voted to reelect Guaido as their leader.

As he opposition-controlled National Assembly was set to elect its leader for the final year of its 2015-2020 period, the Venezuela MP Luis Parra tried to oust his rival Juan Guaido as president of the country's National Assembly on Sunday, in a move condemned as a "coup d'etat" by the opposition.

Juan Guaido, self-proclaimed Venezuela's opposition leader, and many other opposition MPs were not present in the National Assembly: their arrival in the chamber was delayed by long police checks outside parliament.

Guaido was hoping to be re-elected as president of the house in elections on Sunday.

Parra, taking advantage of the chaos, brandished a megaphone and proclaimed himself the new parliamentary chief, the AFP reported.

The scene, broadcast on Venezuela's public television, was condemned by the opposition as a "parliamentary coup d'etat".

Parra's fellow MPs said his move had not been preemptively decided on and that he had acted "without vote".

Parra is one of a small handful of lawmakers who recently broke with Guaido and have since been expelled from their parties for alleged involvement in a corruption scandal involving allies of Maduro.

Guaido's allies, who despite some defections still enjoy a comfortable majority in the 167-seat assembly, immediately denounced the impromptu session as invalid. They complained Parra's election was invalid on numerous grounds, arguing the session was never officially opened, no quorum count was taken and no formal vote was called, merely a rushed show of hands.

``"This is nothing more than another blow to our constitution", said Guaido, whose blue suit was ripped in the chaos.

When they gathered later for an impromptu session at the El Nacional newspaper, the last major daily critical of the socialist government, 100 of the legislature's 167 members voted to reelect Guaido for the final year of the Assembly's 2015-2020 term. Several of the lawmakers who have been forced into exile were represented by alternates at the impromptu session.

Maduro recognises Parra as the new president of the house

Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's president, said in a TV address on Sunday night that he recognised Parra as the new president of the house.

"The National Assembly has made a choice and has a new leader", he said.

The country's state TV, a mouthpiece for Maduro, celebrated the initiative, raising the possibility of rival claims to the legislature's leadership in the days ahead, just as Guaido a year ago asserted that he was Venezuela's interim president following Maduro's 2018 re-election following a campaign marred by irregularities.

Guaido said lawmakers would gather later Sunday at the headquarters of El Nacional, the country's last major opposition newspaper.

Support for Guaido inside the opposition has taken a hit after several minority parties in November splintered off to create a separate bloc to negotiate directly with Maduro -- something that Guaido has refused, arguing that talks are simply a time-buying exercise aimed at keeping Maduro in power.

The small group of opposition lawmakers who broke with Guaido argue that in stubbornly sticking to his plan of removing Maduro, he has put his political ambitions above the needs of Venezuelans who have largely tuned out from the political fight while enduring an economy in shambles and under stiff U.S. sanctions.

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