Government backers block Venezuela legislative meeting

Opposition leader Juan Guaido, center, sits with fellow lawmakers Juan Pablo Guanipa, left, and Carlos Eduardo Berrizbeitia as they hold a session at a theater in the El Hatillo neighborhood after their vehicles were attacked by government supporters while driving to the National Assembly in downtown Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. It's the second time this month that lawmakers have been barred from from the building that houses the only branch of government out of control of President Nicolas Maduro's government. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
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Government security forces and armed motorcycle groups loyal to Venezuela’s president forcefully blocked opposition lawmakers from entering the National Assembly building Wednesday, prompting them to hold their session on the outskirts of the crisis-torn nation’s capital.

It’s the second time this month that lawmakers have been barred from the building that houses the only branch of government that remains out of control of President Nicol谩s Maduro’s socialist government.

Attempting to reach the legislative chamber, the caravan of cars carrying the deputies dodged through downtown streets, but ultimately failed.

Gunshots could be heard near the cars, but no injuries were reported. Two SUV’s carrying the lawmakers came under attack by people on the street dressed in civilian clothes. They struck the rear window of one, shattering it.

Guaid贸 called it an “ambush” carried out by the military and paramilitary groups armed by a “brutal and wild” dictatorship.

Guaid贸 was not in the caravan that attempted to enter the legislative building, but later emerged with other lawmakers at a theater in the Caracas suburb of El Hatillo.

“Today, we clearly reject before the world this attack, this ambush against the Federal Palace,” Guaid贸 said, referring to the legislative building. “The dictatorship has clearly exposed itself to the world.”

The incident was part of a struggle for control of the opposition-dominated National Assembly and Venezuela as a whole, a nation suffering economic and social collapse that’s led an estimated 4.5 million to emigrate.

A once oil-wealthy nation, Venezuela has been locked in a political, economic and social collapse for the last five years. Basic medicines, food and gasoline are scarce, despite the fact Venezuela sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves.

The 36-year-old Guaid贸 leaped onto Venezuela’s political stage a year ago when he declared himself acting president under the constitution and vowed to end Maduro’s rule. The United States and more than 50 other nations quickly backed him, saying Maduro’s reelection in 2018 was illegitimate.

Guaid贸 was also blocked from the National Assembly building early this month in a failed government attempt to prevent him from being reelected as the body’s leader.

Increasing tension, the rival National Constituent Assembly, which is stacked with Maduro loyalists, held its session in a chamber within the same complex of government buildings in downtown Caracas, across from where the National Assembly traditionally meets.

Leading the session, socialist party chief Diosdado Cabello, who is considered Venezuela’s most powerful man after Maduro, alluded to events playing out on the surrounding streets. “The center of Caracas is territory free of violence,” Cabello said. “It’s liberated territory.”

Critics say the Constituent Assembly was created to rubber stamp socialist party policies as a way to circumvent the opposition-led National Assembly.

Opposition lawmaker Delsa Sol贸rzano said she was riding in a car with at least three other lawmakers that came under attack by men wielding rocks and sticks. She also reported hearing gunfire.

“Evidently, they tried to kill us,” Sol贸rzano said. “Today, our parliament is practically kidnapped.”