May 27, 2019
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Venezuelan opposition lawmakers brave security gauntlet to hold session

Caracas, May 15 (efe-epa).- Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly reconvened Wednesday after being kept out of the Federal Legislative Palace the previous day amid a security lockdown in response to a purported bomb threat.

EFE watched lawmakers endure lengthy delays to enter the palace as National Guard troops subjected their credentials to painstaking review.

A quorum of 87 members was eventually achieved and the session got under way.

But security forces barred the media from the chamber, including a crew from online channel Capitolio TV, which usually provides a live feed of legislative proceedings.

Assembly members decided to use social media to disseminate cell-phone video of the session.

Authorities have offered no further information on the bomb threat that disrupted Tuesday's session and the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) - a rival legislative body dominated by supporters of President Nicolas Maduro - was able to meet in the Federal Palace without incident later the same day.

National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido, who has proclaimed himself interim president of oil-rich Venezuela, said Wednesday that authorities have yet to provide any evidence that the bomb threat was real and he accused the security forces of having commandeered the chamber.

Guaido said the government has persecuted 96 of the National Assembly's 112 opposition members.

Since the start of May, 14 National Assembly members have had their immunity from prosecution revoked by the ANC after the Supreme Court said the lawmakers should face charges for their part in Guaido's April 30 attempt to rally the armed forces behind a bid to oust Maduro.

The Supreme Court effectively sidelined the National Assembly in 2016 after the body defied the judges by seating three members who authorities said won their seats through electoral fraud.

Created in 2017 with a mandate to draft a new constitution, the ANC has claimed for itself the powers previously exercised by the National Assembly.

Jose Prat rose during Wednesday's National Assembly session to criticize the Maduro government for holding two other members, including deputy speaker Edgar Zambrano, incommunicado.

"Nothing is known of their condition, nor where they are, nor what kind of treatment they have been subjected to," Prat said of his colleagues, who are among the 14 legislators accused of sedition.

Guaido, who proclaimed himself acting president on Jan. 23, denouncing Maduro's May 2018 re-election as illegitimate, went on April 30 to an airbase in Caracas to issue a call for the military to abandon the current government.

The United States is one of the upwards of 50 nations who have recognized Guaido as Venezuela's interim head of state. More than 120 other countries - including Russia, China, India and Japan - continue to acknowledge Maduro as president.

In a related development on Wednesday, the US Department of Homeland Security announced the "immediate suspension" of commercial passenger and cargo flights between the United States and Venezuela.

"Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan determined that conditions in Venezuela threaten the safety and security of passengers, aircraft, and crew," the department said in a statement.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assented to the suspension of flights based on McAleenan's finding, while implementation of the measure is in the hands of the Department of Transportation.

"This determination is based on the ongoing political instability and increased tensions in Venezuela and associated inadvertent risk to flight operations," according to the statement from Homeland Security.

The suspension will remain in effect until US officials deem that conditions in Venezuela have changed sufficiently to accommodate the resumption of flights, Homeland Security said.

American Airlines, the last major US carrier providing scheduled service to and from Venezuela, suspended flights indefinitely on March 28.

Venezuela broke diplomatic relations with the US in January, after Washington recognized Guaido.

The US imposed sanctions on Venezuela in 2015, when Barack Obama was president, but Donald Trump sharply escalated the measures after taking office in January 2017.

Guaido, who has repeatedly called on the Venezuelan armed forces to rise up against Maduro, said last weekend that he had instructed his envoy in Washington to formally ask the US military for "cooperation" in toppling the incumbent president.

The Trump administration says that "all options are on the table" in the standoff with the Maduro government.

EFE

rgc/dr

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