WASHINGTON - Clashes broke out between opposition supporters and security forces in Venezuela’s capital after the government inaugurated a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution.
Security forces launched tear gas at protesters who marched along Caracas’ highway toward the National Assembly.
Opposition protesters have been holding almost daily protests for the last four months against the government of socialist President Nicolas Maduro, leading to the deaths of at least 120 people.
Assembly’s first meeting
Earlier Friday, a controversial assembly comprising allies of Maduro met for the first time in Caracas, five days after it was elected to rewrite the 1999 constitution.
The Constituent Assembly was inaugurated Friday, despite an international outcry and protests by the political opposition, which contends the vote was rigged to pack the assembly with Maduro supporters. In one order of business at the legislative palace, the 545-member body unanimously selected former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez as its president.
Rodriguez condemned foreign criticism of Venezuela.
“The international community should not make a mistake over Venezuela. The message is clear, very clear — we Venezuelans will resolve our conflict, our crisis without any form of foreign interference,” she said.
?Vatican calls for calm
In addition to rewriting the constitution put in place under then-President Hugo Chavez, the new assembly will have power over other branches of government and the authority to remove public officials.
Media reports say chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, who this week said she had opened an investigation into alleged voter fraud in Sunday’s election, may be targeted by the assembly.
Ortega filed the request for an investigation in a lower court, after earlier filing complaints about the constitutionality of the new assembly with the nation’s Supreme Court.
On Wednesday, President Maduro and Venezuela’s election chief denied a report that voter turnout numbers were manipulated and inflated by at least 1 million for the election to choose the assembly.
Meanwhile, the Vatican has called for a suspension of the Constituent Assembly, saying Friday that it contributed to a climate of tension and conflict. The Vatican also called for the Catholic-majority nation to “avoid any form of violence” as the crisis deepens.
The United States, European Union and several Latin American countries have said they will not recognize the assembly.
One opposition leader released
In another development, Venezuelan authorities, who had detained opposition leaders Antonio Ledezma and Leopoldo Lopez earlier in the week, allowed Ledezma to return home, where he was placed under house arrest, Ledezma’s wife said via Twitter Friday.
Lopez remains in prison.
Twitter video showed intelligence agents dragging Ledezma and Lopez out of their homes and shoving them into cars early Tuesday. The two had been under house arrest for previous opposition activities.
U.S. President Donald Trump said in a statement late Tuesday that “Mr. Lopez and Mr. Ledezma are political prisoners being held illegally by the regime. ... We reiterate our call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners.”