New Venezue­lan body is sworn in

Af­ter a dis­puted elec­tion, 545-mem­ber as­sem­bly pre­pares to re­write con­sti­tu­tion.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Mery Mo­gol­lon and Chris Kraul Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dents Mo­gol­lon and Kraul re­ported from Cara­cas and Bo­gota, Colom­bia, re­spec­tively.

CARA­CAS, Venezuela — Mem­bers of Venezuela’s con­tro­ver­sial new con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly were sworn in Fri­day amid crit­i­cism from op­po­si­tion lead­ers and oth­ers who said the rewrit­ing of the na­tion’s char­ter should be post­poned or can­celed.

The 545 mem­bers of the as­sem­bly were ex­pected to con­vene Satur­day to be­gin writ­ing a new con­sti­tu­tion de­spite ob­jec­tions by con­sti­tu­tional ex­perts and the na­tion’s at­tor­ney gen­eral, who con­sider the cre­ation of a new char­ter pushed by Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro il­le­gal be­cause it was not autho­rized by a ma­jor­ity of Venezue­lans in a ref­er­en­dum.

The as­sem­bly Fri­day chose for­mer For­eign Min­is­ter Delcy Ro­driguez as its pres­i­dent.

Ro­driguez, in an ad­dress to del­e­gates in the his­toric Sa­lon Elip­tico in cen­tral Cara­cas’ Fed­eral Leg­isla­tive Palace gov­ern­ment com­plex, said the as­sem­bly would im­prove upon the Bo­li­var­ian revo­lu­tion be­gun un­der late Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez and the 1999 con­sti­tu­tion that he ush­ered in.

In the hall were as­sem­bly rep­re­sen­ta­tives in­clud­ing pro-Maduro can­di­dates rep­re­sent­ing groups such as peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, stu­dents, the el­derly and oth­ers she said had been ig­nored by the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled Na­tional As­sem­bly. Many held plac­ards with por­traits of Chavez and 19th cen­tury in­de­pen­dence leader Si­mon Bo­li­var.

“We come not to de­stroy our con­sti­tu­tion,” Ro­driguez said. “We come to de­fend, deepen and re­new it.”

Crit­ics say Maduro wanted new con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly to il­le­git­i­mately cir­cum­vent the Na­tional As­sem­bly demo­crat­i­cally elected in late 2015. Although spe­cific plans of the new body have not been spelled out, crit­ics fear it will side­line or can­cel the ex­ist­ing congress while hand­ing ad­di­tional pow­ers to Maduro.

Ro­driguez warned the op­po­si­tion in her speech that “dis­pens­ing jus­tice” to op­po­si­tion lead­ers whom she blamed for sow­ing vi­o­lence and chaos would be a first or­der of busi­ness of the new as­sem­bly. Maduro pre­vi­ously had threat­ened to use new pow­ers to put mem­bers of the op­po­si­tion, news me­dia and congress in jail.

Thou­sands of Maduro loy­al­ists gath­ered in the plaza by the gov­ern­ment com­plex. A por­trait of Chavez that had been taken down when the op­po­si­tion­con­trolled congress took power in 2016 was brought to the swear­ing-in cer­e­mony.

Mem­bers of the new as­sem­bly had marched to the leg­isla­tive palace with hun­dreds of gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers wear­ing red shirts. They chanted “Viva Chavez” and anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist slo­gans, and sang the na­tional an­them.

Mean­while, mem­bers of the Na­tional As­sem­bly said they would re­main in power re­gard­less of what was done by the con­sti­tu­tional body.

At least 120 peo­ple have been killed in vi­o­lent clashes be­tween au­thor­i­ties and pro­test­ers since late March, when a rul­ing by the Maduro-con­trolled Supreme Court in ef­fect neutered the Na­tional As­sem­bly and trans­ferred its pow­ers to Maduro. Although the rul­ing was par­tially re­scinded, protests have con­tin­ued over food scarci­ties, ris­ing vi­o­lence and Maduro’s au­to­cratic gov­ern­ing style.

The new as­sem­bly’s le­git­i­macy re­ceived a blow Wed­nes­day when the British com­pany Smart­matic, which sup­plied vot­ing ma­chines for last week­end’s elec­tion of del­e­gates to the new body, de­clared that the gov­ern­ment had ma­nip­u­lated the re­sults and that the tally was off by “more than 1 mil­lion votes.”

Ari­ana Cubillos As­so­ci­ated Press

FOR­MER For­eign Min­is­ter Delcy Ro­driguez was cho­sen pres­i­dent of the new con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly, whose le­git­i­macy con­tin­ues to be chal­lenged.

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