Caracas (AFP) – A controversial new Venezuelan assembly packed with allies of unpopular President Nicolas Maduro held its inaugural session on Friday, deepening a rift with the opposition amid widespread international criticism of its legitimacy.
The Constituent Assembly has supreme powers over all branches of government as it takes on its principal task of rewriting the 1999 constitution from Saturday, a week after it was elected in balloting marred by violence and allegations of fraud.
Its 500-plus-members, who include Maduro’s wife and son, are led by Delcy Rodriguez, Maduro’s former foreign minister.
They took their seats in an ornate oval chamber under a golden dome in the 145-year-old Legislative Palace — at the far end of the same building where the opposition-dominated National Assembly is located.
After thanking Maduro for bringing about the assembly’s election, the 48-year-old Rodriguez slammed the criticism from abroad.
“The international community should not make a mistake over Venezuela. The message is clear, very clear: we Venezuelans will resolve our conflict, our crisis without any form of foreign interference,” she said.
The Constituent Assembly has discretion to dissolve the National Assembly. Such a move, however, would fuel criticism of it as a rubber-stamp body for Maduro, who critics say is building a “dictatorship.”
The assembly’s members were accompanied to the palace by Maduro and thousands of supporters carrying portraits of late president Hugo Chavez.
The opposition staged protests in the capital on Friday. Some clashes occurred with security forces, but there were no reports of deaths to swell the toll of more than 125 fatalities over the past four months.
– Vatican ignored –
The Vatican on Friday had urged the assembly’s session not be held, saying it contributed to “a climate of tension” in Venezuela.
Just hours ahead of the assembly’s inaugural session, Venezuela’s intelligence service unexpectedly transferred a high-profile opposition figure, Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, from jail back to house arrest, his family said.
Ledezma and another opposition figure, Leopoldo Lopez, had been taken from their homes to military prison on Tuesday, reversing earlier home detentions.
Lopez remains incarcerated, one of hundreds of people who the opposition says are political prisoners.
The Constituent Assembly marks a new stage in Venezuela’s rule.
Maduro claims the revised charter will yank the oil-rich, cash-poor country out of its political and…