September 24, 2019 / 5:29 PM / 2 months ago

Pro-government lawmakers return to Venezuelan congress after two-year absence

CARACAS (Reuters) - Pro-government lawmakers returned to Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress on Tuesday, after President Nicolas Maduro announced an end to a two-year boycott, saying he wanted to promote dialogue in the deeply divided country.

Pedro Carreno, lawmaker of Venezuela's United Socialist Party (PSUV), gestures next to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognised as the country's rightful interim ruler, and Edgar Zambrano, Vice President of Venezuela's National Assembly, during a session of Venezuela's National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

As supporters of Maduro’s socialist administration shouted at opposition lawmakers from the National Assembly balconies, almost 40 of around 50 pro-government deputies took their seats for the first time since 2017.

That year, Maduro declared the 167-seat assembly to be illegitimate after the Supreme Court ruled it to be in contempt of the law for incorporating several lawmakers accused of buying votes, an allegation they denied. The court later accused the assembly of passing legislation that violated the Venezuelan constitution.

Maduro’s government then created a parallel pro-government legislature to override opposition delegates’ decisions.

Maduro on Monday insisted the assembly was still illegal, but said pro-government lawmakers would retake their seats as part of a deal struck with a small group of opposition delegates to promote dialogue.

“Let’s go to the debate, let’s go to the fight,” Maduro said on state television.

The deal was not backed by the mainstream opposition parties who control the National Assembly. The legislature is headed by U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, who invoked the constitution to assume a rival presidency in January.

Guaido earlier this month said negotiations in Barbados between the opposition and government mediated by Norway “had been exhausted” after the Maduro administration withdrew delegates following a tightening of U.S. sanctions.

The United States and around 50 other countries have backed Guaido in his attempt to oust Maduro, who has overseen a crippling economic crisis and mass emigration from Venezuelans fleeing food and medicine shortages.

Maduro’s government has spent the past two years tightening the noose on opposition lawmakers, opening various criminal probes into Guaido and stripping many of his colleagues of their parliamentary immunity. Some 20 lawmakers remain detained, in exile, or in refuge at friendly embassies in Caracas.

On Sept. 17, authorities released Guaido’s deputy in congress, Edgar Zambrano, who was arrested four months earlier on treason charges.

Reporting by Mayela Armas and Vivian Sequera; Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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