Venezuela Congress declares President Maduro has staged coup

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s Congress on Sunday declared that the government had staged a coup in a raucous session that was interrupted when supporters of the socialist administration stormed into the chamber.

Lawmakers vowed to put President Nicolas Maduro on trial after a court friendly to his administration on Thursday blocked the opposition’s campaign to recall the deeply-unpopular president.

Lawmaker Julio Borges said the opposition-held congress is now in open rebellion against the government.

A day of fiery speeches was briefly thrown into chaos in the afternoon when dozens of red-shirted protesters who had been heckling lawmakers outside the capitol since the morning burst onto the floor. Lawmakers ran out of the path of protesters who chanted: “Congress will fall!”

It was not immediately clear how the protesters entered the heavily guarded building, which has been under the opposition’s control since Maduro’s critics won a landslide legislative election in December. The protesters began to file out of the building after Socialist party leader Jorge Rodriguez called on them to leave, leading the opposition to charge that Rodriguez was directing the protest.

Opposition spokesman Jesus Torrealba said the protest on the floor was a perfect illustration of the opposition’s complaint that democracy has been suspended in the oil country.

“The fact that lawmakers elected by 7.5 million people were silenced by 300 thugs sums up the situation better than any speech could,” he said.

Legislators also proposed efforts to replace national elections officials and Supreme Court judges.

Amid severe shortages and the world’s highest inflation, polls suggest as much as 80 percent of voters want Maduro gone this year.

A push to take legal action against the president would throw the country further into a constitutional crisis, but would probably not prevail because the administration controls the courts and other major institutions.

Last week’s ruling suspending the recall vote drew condemnation from the U.S. State Department and the Organization of American States.

On Sunday, congress approved a resolution officially asking the international community to step in to “protect the people’s right to democracy by any means necessary.”

Opposition leaders are also pledging to build pressure in the streets, starting with a nationwide protest on Wednesday dubbed “the taking of Venezuela.”

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