Lima Group backs Guaido re-election as Venezuela's Congress splits

LIMA (Reuters) - The Lima Group regional bloc said on Monday it backed the re-election of opposition leader Juan Guaido as head of Venezuela’s Congress after Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government forced a separate vote imposing a new leader of the legislative body.

Luis Parra was installed as the new head of Congress on Sunday after armed troops blocked opposition legislators from entering parliament, in a move condemned by dozens of nations as an assault on democracy.

Opposition legislators responded by re-electing Guaido in a session at the headquarters of a pro-opposition newspaper. Guaido is recognized by dozens of nations as Venezuela’s rightful leader.

The Lima Group, minus members Mexico and Argentina, said they welcomed Guaido’s re-election as the leader of Congress and as the country’s interim president, repeating a condemnation of “force and intimidation tactics” used against lawmakers.

The re-election of Guaido “represents a rejection of the reckless actions by Nicolas Maduro’s regime that sought to prevent his appointment,” said the group, which was set up to find a way out of the Venezuelan crisis.

The Lima Group statement was signed by Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Bolivia, the last of which joined the bloc in December after the resignation of leftist leader Evo Morales.

Argentina’s new center-left Peronist President Alberto Fernandez has been walking a tightrope between key trade partners including Brazil and the United States and potential leftist allies including Venezuela.

The South American country has given asylum to socialist former Bolivian leader Morales and welcomed a senior official from Maduro’s government to Fernandez’s inauguration in December, prompting criticism from the United States.

But Argentina’s foreign minister, Felipe Sola, said on Twitter that his government rejected the move in Venezuela to block the proper functioning of the legislative assembly which would only lead to “international isolation.”

“The assembly must elect its president with full legitimacy,” he wrote.

Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Paul Simao