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Guaido brands Venezuela parliament rival 'accomplice of dictatorship'

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Caracas (AFP)

Opposition leader Juan Guaido on Monday branded a rival claimant to the post of speaker of the National Assembly an "accomplice of the dictatorship" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro amid a deepening political impasse.

Police prevented Guaido from entering the National Assembly he heads on Sunday and a corruption-tainted opposition lawmaker, Luis Parra, declared himself parliament speaker in his absence, setting the stage for the latest confrontation in crisis-wracked Venezuela.

Guaido later held a separate parliamentary session at the offices of an opposition-leaning newspaper in which he was re-elected president of the National Assembly.

It was as National Assembly president that Guaido proclaimed himself acting president of Venezuela nearly a year ago, launching a direct challenge to Maduro.

Guaido said he would lead a parliamentary session in the National Assembly on Tuesday, despite having been denied access to the building on Sunday.

He repudiated Parra as "an accomplice to the dictatorship."

Parra, a former Guaido ally who was kicked out of his opposition party last month after being accused of graft, dismissed Sunday's events outside parliament as "a show."

He said Guaido knew he "didn't have enough votes" to be re-elected and so fabricated the story of his being denied entry to the National Assembly.

Video and photographic images, however, showed Guaido trying to climb over a metal railing to gain access to the National Assembly compound only to be pushed back by police with riot shields.

"He prefered to stay outside, (and) take the path of a show," said Parra, who added that Guaido would still be welcome in parliament but as just "another deputy."

- Political confusion -

Sunday's events left Venezuelan politics in a state of confusion once again.

A year ago, Guaido declared himself acting president after parliament branded Maduro a "usurper" over his controversial 2018 re-election in a poll widely denounced as fraudulent.

That left Venezuela with two presidents.

Maduro holds actual presidential power but Guaido's claim to the presidency is recognized by more than 50 countries, including the United States and many European nations.

Now the country also has two claimants for the leadership of the National Assembly, the only government branch in opposition hands.

Parra's support mainly comes from deputies loyal to Maduro while the opposition holds 112 of the 167 seats in the assembly.

Both men claimed on Sunday they had the support of enough deputies to be elected president of the legislature.

Prior to Sunday's vote, Guaido charged that the Maduro regime bribed some opposition deputies to vote against him.

It remains to be seen who will take the top seat in parliament on Tuesday, but Parra held his press conference there on Monday while Guaido held his in a private conference hall in the east of Caracas.

On Sunday, Guaido said 100 of the National Assembly's 167 deputies had voted for him while Parra claimed to have been backed by 81 of those lawmakers.

Guaido vowed to "enforce" the constitution in his dual role as parliament speaker and acting president.

In a televised address on Sunday, President Maduro gave his backing to Parra as the new speaker, adding that "Guaido was kicked out of the National Assembly by the votes of his own opposition."

But left-wing allies Argentina and Uruguay joined the chorus of voices denouncing Maduro and the treatment of lawmakers that were blocked from entering parliament.

The United States was among a number of countries to congratulate Guaido on his re-election and condemn "the failed efforts of the former Maduro regime to negate the will of the democratically elected National Assembly."

Venezuela's opposition denounced Parra's move as a "parliamentary coup."

- Two parliaments -

Police claiming to be carrying out a security operation prevented Guaido and around a dozen other lawmakers from entering the National Assembly, while allowing in deputies from Maduro's party and opposition lawmakers who had broken with Guaido.

The National Assembly has been effectively sidelined since 2017, when the Supreme Court, made up of Maduro loyalists, declared it in contempt. The court has since annulled its every decision.

Maduro then controversially set up a Constituent Assembly -- also made up exclusively of loyalists -- with power to legislate in its place.

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