Venezuelan opposition lawmakers allowed into congress

Venezuela has been caught in a political standoff between President Nicolas Maduro's government and National Assembly leader Juan Guaido

Lawmakers entered congress on Wednesday, a day after opposition leader Juan Guaido accused Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro's government of trying to "gag" the legislature after it was blocked by security forces.

"Here we are in session, facing the people," said Guaido when opening the day's proceedings at the Federal Palace building that houses the National Assembly -- the only government branch under opposition control.

SEBIN security agents and the National Guard, which provides security for the building, had prevented lawmakers from entering on Tuesday.

It was the latest move in a series of measures taken by the Maduro regime against opposition lawmakers since Guaido's failed April 30 uprising.

Venezuela has been in political turmoil since assembly speaker Guaido declared himself acting president in January in a direct challenge to Maduro's authority.

"The (only) option in Venezuela is to struggle, to keep going ... and here is your parliament to accompany you and get out of this crisis," said Guaido in a speech transmitted on twitter.

Tuesday's session was meant to discuss government measures taken against National Assembly lawmakers, which was instead on Wednesday's program.

The Constituent Assembly, set up by Maduro to replace the sidelined National Assembly, has stripped a dozen opposition lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity.

The Supreme Court has likewise charged 14 deputies with involvement in the failed uprising, in which Guaido was joined by around 30 members of the armed forces in a revolt that quickly fizzled out. It did, however, spark two days of deadly clashes between protesters and security forces.

The US government suspended all passenger and cargo air services to Venezuela on Wednesday, citing reports of civil unrest in and around its airports.

The military has largely remained loyal to Maduro, strengthening his position in the power struggle with Guaido, who is recognized as interim president by more than 50 countries.

Of the lawmakers singled out by authorities, deputy assembly speaker Edgar Zambrano was arrested by SEBIN agents last week. Another fled to neighboring Colombia, four more sought refuge in diplomatic compounds while yet another said he was hiding inside Venezuela.

"Yesterday the dictatorship tried to prevent our session but they couldn't and they can't," Guaido wrote on twitter.

"Today we will sit in session honoring once more the support and confidence of the whole of Venezuela."

- Normal entry -

Earlier in the day, the National Assembly speaker's press team had shared a video of a smiling Guaido entering the congress building alongside other lawmakers.

"We're already here inside. Entry was as normal, they only asked deputies for their identification," lawmaker Arnoldo Benitez told AFP.

Maduro's right-hand man Diosdado Cabello justified Tuesday's intervention by claiming there was a bomb threat in the building.

Guaido accused the security forces of using "brute force" and said the building was "occupied militarily."

While deputies were allowed in on Wednesday, the National Guard prevented the press from entering, something that has happened before.

"They didn't allow in the press and that's a concern for us because the media is a shield for us here inside," Benitez said by telephone.

A line of uniformed officers carrying shields were stationed outside the entrance to the legislature.

The National Assembly has been effectively powerless since 2016 when the Supreme Court, made up of regime loyalists, declared it in contempt.

Ever since the top court has annulled every decision its made.

"Today, history obliges us to be firm with those few who try to tarnish the people's ideals," said Supreme Court president Maikel Moreno in an official act, referring to supposed attacks on the constitution by opposition lawmakers that reject Maduro's authority.