Tuesday, April 30, 2013 11:51 pm
Venezuela lawmakers brawl amid election tensions
By JORGE RUEDAAssociated Press
Pro-government legislators started throwing punches after members of the opposition coalition unfurled a banner in the National Assembly protesting a postelection ban stripping opposition lawmakers of most of their legislative powers, opposition lawmaker Ismael Garcia told The Associated Press. Video showed groups of legislators shoving and pushing each other on the floor.
Assembly member Julio Borges appeared on an independent television station soon after Tuesday night's brawl with blood running down one side of his swollen face. The opposition said at least 17 of its allies and five pro-government deputies were injured.
Pro-government legislators appeared on state TV accusing opposition members of attacking them.
The opposition has refused to accept President Nicolas Maduro's narrow April 14 victory, saying the government's 1.49 percent margin resulted from fraud like votes cast in the names of the thousands of dead people found on current voting rolls.
In retaliation, the government-dominated assembly has barred opposition lawmakers from public speaking and sitting on legislative committees. Tuesday's fight was the second in which opposition legislators said the other side attacked them for protesting the ban.
Since the election the government has arrested dozens of protesters, mostly students. Most have been released but many say there were subjected to physical abuse and humiliation while detained.
The government has also arrested a 35-year-old American filmmaker and a retired general who became a prominent member of the opposition. Both men are charged with illegally adding demonstrations that the government says were aimed at destabilizing the country.
Both two sides planned to take to the streets Wednesday in different parts of the capital for marches celebrating International Workers' Day. Both appeared to be trying to avoid confrontation by choosing separate locations and calling for peaceful demonstrations, although fears of violence were running high.
Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles is boycotting an audit of the election and plans to file a challenge seeking to overturn it in court.
Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly, has barred opposition lawmakers from speaking until they public recognize Maduro's victory.
On Tuesday, legislator Pedro Carreno, head of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela in the National Assembly, asked for an extension of the ban on public speaking by the opposition, whose members unfurled a banner reading "coup against the parliament."
"Without a word, like cowards, they came at us from behind," said Garcia, the opposition lawmaker.
Garcia said state television, which alone has the right to broadcast from inside the National Assembly, cut its transmission when the fight erupted.
Maduro accused the opposition of provoking the violence, which he condemned and called on the country to work out its disputes peacefully.
"We don't agree with violence," he said on national TV. "This can't be repeated. We spoke personally with Diosdado Cabello and he's going to take the disciplinary measures needed so that these events don't repeat themselves."
Cabello, considered one of the most powerful men in the country for his ties to the business community and army, has repeatedly defended barring opposition lawmakers from speaking. He said that if they don't recognize the legitimacy of the presidential election, they are casting doubt on the national electoral system that elected them, thus losing their own legitimacy.
The opposition lawmakers have also lost their seats on legislative commissions.
Carreno described government backers' action in the fight as self-defense.
"If I'm standing here and you come to attack me, it's likely that I'll react, but it's the aggressor who went out with a black eye," he said.
Associated Press writer Michael Weissenstein contributed to this report.