Venezuelan legislative super-body holds 1st session amid condemnations, protests
Iran Press TV
Fri Aug 4, 2017 10:53PM
Venezuela's all-powerful Constituent Assembly, packed with allies of beleaguered President Nicolas Maduro, has held its first session less than a week after a disputed vote, in defiance of widespread condemnation from home and abroad over allegations that the super-body could undermine democratic freedoms.
The powerful 545-seat Constituent Assembly, with the principal task of rewriting the 1999 constitution, started its work on Friday, and former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, a staunch ally of the 54-year-old Venezuelan leader, was picked as the head of the controversial body.
The nomination was approved unanimously by all newly-elected members, among whom are Maduro's wife and son, in an ornate oval chamber under a golden dome in the 145-year-old Legislative Palace, which has another chamber where the opposition-majority National Assembly is seated.
The new assembly, which is capable of dissolving the opposition-led legislature, was elected last weekend in a vote marred by violence and rigging allegations. The National Electoral Council, considered by the opposition as Maduro's mouthpiece, declared that more than eight million legitimate voters, i.e. a turnout of about 41 percent, had cast their ballots.
The election was held amid a wave of deadly clashes and violence, with protesters attacking polling stations and barricading streets. The unrest left at least 10 people dead and brought the death toll from four months of protest rallies to more than 125.
"Today is a magnificent day. I want to thank Maduro for having stirred the wise powers of the Venezuelan people," said Rodriguez, 48, in her opening speech, labeling the right-wing opposition as "fascists" for the "crisis" she claimed they had created in the South American country.
She also said that the country was facing no humanitarian crisis, and was instead imbued with a sense of "love."
"The people arrived with fighting spirit, on their feet," Rodriguez added.
Ostensibly taking no notice of the peaceful atmosphere of the new assembly, Venezuela's opposition supporters clashed with riot police in the capital Caracas to protest the new constituent body's inauguration.
Protesters set fire to street barricades and threw Molotov cocktails at members of the National Guard. Police resorted to using tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowd.
On Wednesday, the UK-based Smartmatic Group, a multinational electronic voting company that provided nearly 24,000 voting machines for Venezuelans to cast their votes electronically, claimed that the turnout figures had been "tampered with."
Maduro, while flatly rejecting the international software firm's claim of fraud, accused it of bowing to US pressure to cast doubt over the legitimacy of the assembly, vowing a "100 percent audit" by the electoral authorities.
On Monday, Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega, a vocal dissenter in Maduro's government, also said she would not recognize the newly-elected assembly, calling it an expression of "dictatorial ambition."
While Venezuela's old allies, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Russia, supported the Sunday vote for the formation of the new legislative body, the United States, the European Union, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Spain, Canada and Peru denounced the vote, saying the Constituent Assembly can destroy the Venezuelan democracy and institutionalize autocracy there.
Venezuela, an impoverished but oil-rich country, has been suffering from a persistent economic crisis in recent years, which in turn, has created a widening political crisis. Maduro blames the crisis on the US, saying Washington has incited the opposition.
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