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U.S. condemns move by Venezuela's ruling party to seize Congress

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks on human rights in Iran at the State Department in Washington, U.S., December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced on Sunday a move by Venezuela’s ruling Socialist party to install a new head of Congress after armed troops blocked opposition legislators, including their leader Juan Guaido, from entering parliament.

Pompeo also congratulated Guaido on being re-elected president of the National Assembly, given the illegitimacy of the Socialists’ takeover, and said Washington continued to support him, the National Assembly and free and fair elections.

“I congratulate Juan Guaido on his re-election as president of the Venezuelan National Assembly and condemn the failed efforts of the former Maduro regime to negate the will of the democratically elected National Assembly,” Pompeo said in a statement.

Troops with riot shields blocked Guaido from entering parliament for what was expected to be his re-election as head of Congress, allowing President Nicolas Maduro’s party to hand the post to legislator Luis Parra. Parra was recently expelled by an opposition party over corruption allegations.

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

“Maduro continues to ignore the constitution and will of the Venezuelan people,” Pompeo added. “No regime thugs, no jail cells, and no bribery or intimidation can subvert the will of the Venezuelan people.”

Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Chris Reese