Venezuela’s controversial new assembly starts sitting

CARACAS Aug 05: 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 and 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 – in the same building where the opposition-dominated National Assembly is located, albeit in a different room.

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 the 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, but there were no signs of the street violence of the past four months that has left a death toll of more than 125.