Wednesday 23 October, 2019

Venezuela's congress names new leader, vows to battle Maduro

Venezuelan lawmaker Juan Guaido swears in as President of the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Venezuelan lawmaker Juan Guaido swears in as President of the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress opened its first session of the year Saturday, installing a fresh-faced leader who struck a defiant tone and vowed to take up the battle against socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

Juan Guaido assumes the presidency of the National Assembly stripped of power by Maduro, whose government is blamed for leading the once-wealthy oil nation into a historic political and humanitarian crisis.

Speaking to legislators, Guaido named off several opposition politicians and opponents of Maduro's government who have been jailed, driven into exile or killed. He said desperation has driven masses of common citizens to flee abroad looking for work, he said.

"We are under an oppressive system," he said. "It's not just that — it is miserable."

Tall and youthful, Guaido represents the next generation of Venezuelan political opposition, taking up the assembly's leadership following 74-year-old Omar Barboza.

An industrial engineer and former student leader, Guaido is from the same political party as Leopoldo Lopez, Venezuela's most popular opposition leader under house arrest and considered by government opponents to be a political prisoner.

Guaido called Maduro a dictator whose legitimacy has run out. Venezuela is living a "dark but transitional" moment of its history, he said, adding that among its first acts congress will create a transitional body to restore constitutional order, but he offered no details.

Foreign diplomats from the United States, Canada, Japan, Italy and Germany attended the assembly's inaugural session in a show of solidarity.

It opened days before Maduro's inauguration to a second, six-year term widely condemned as illegitimate after he declared victory in the May 20 election considered a sham by many foreign powers.

As international pressure mounts, a dozen Latin American countries and Canada on Friday urged Maduro to cede power and hand it over to congress until a valid president is elected and democracy restored.

Venezuelan officials accuse the coalition of taking orders directly from U.S. President Donald Trump, who they frequently accuse of spearheading an economic war against Venezuela.

"Those of us here are fighting every day to restore democracy," Guaido said. "We want the protection of the rule of law. We want the Venezuelans to be protected, because we believe in life."

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