(BBC) Members of Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly declared on Sunday that the government was engaged in “an ongoing coup d’etat”.
In an emergency session, lawmakers said there had been a “rupture of the constitutional order”.
They also threatened to put President Nicolas Maduro on trial.
The emergency session was called after the electoral authorities blocked opposition efforts to hold a referendum to remove Mr Maduro from power.
Why does the opposition want Mr Maduro out?
The opposition blames President Maduro and his socialist government for the economic crisis which Venezuela is experiencing.
The International Monetary Fund has predicted that inflation will rise to 1,660% next year.
The South American nation is already suffering from chronic shortages of many goods, including food and basic toiletries.
Public hospitals have reported running out of medicine and being barely able to function.
The opposition is calling for new elections as well as Mr Maduro’s removal.
How can they oust Mr Maduro?
Under Venezuela’s constitution, a recall referendum can be held once a president has served half of his term in office and the requisite steps are met.
So far, the opposition has completed step one of the process.
The opposition was scheduled to start stage two of the process on 26 October.
But last week, the electoral authorities announced that the signature drive had been suspended after allegations of fraud in the first stage.
The announcement was met with outrage by the opposition, which has long accused the National Electoral Council of doing the government’s bidding and causing delays at every possible turn.
What happened on Sunday?
Image copyright EPA Image caption Supporters of the government held up pictures of the late president, Hugo Chavez
The National Assembly, which is controlled by a coalition of opposition parties, held an emergency session.
The Assembly approved a resolution which declares that Venezuela has suffered a coup d’etat and the constitutional order has broken down, and urges Venezuelans to stand up in defence of the constitution.
The resolution also advocates
- Asking international organisations for help in defending the Venezuelan people
- Naming new Supreme Court judges and members of the National Electoral Council
- Calling on the Venezuelan armed forces to disobey any order which is unconstitutional or goes against human rights
Lawmaker Julio Borges also said that the opposition would bring a political trial against President Maduro “to get to the bottom of his role in the break with democracy and human rights here”.
What was the atmosphere like?
The session was tense and angry, with both government and opposition lawmakers giving fiery speeches.
Chaos erupted when a group of government supporters who had been demonstrating outside the Assembly building pushed past security guards and broke into the chamber.
The session had to be halted for 45 minutes while the protesters were removed.
The interruption was described in very different ways by the two rival sides.
Opposition lawmaker Julio Borges posted a video of the protests and called it “an attack on Venezuela’s parliament”.
Government lawmaker Diosdado Cabello on the other hand defended those who had interrupted the session, saying they had only been protecting the legitimate government and would do so another 1,000 times.
He also accused the National Assembly of carrying out its own coup d’etat.
How did Mr Maduro react?
Image copyright AFP Image caption President Maduro (left) was in Saudi Arabia at the time
President Maduro sent a video message from Saudi Arabia, where he was discussing global oil prices.
In it he said, “The revolution will continue to win despite the constant pretentions of the right which is trying to take over power by unconstitutional means.”
President Maduro and his government have accused the opposition of having links to foreign states, and the US in particular, and of seeking to overthrow him to “lay their hands on Venezuela’s oil riches”.
What happens next?
Image copyright AP Image caption The opposition has called for peaceful protest marches to be held on Wednesday
The National Assembly has convened another session for 25 October in which it plans to discuss how to proceed next.
Analysts say the resolutions passed on Sunday are largely symbolic and unlikely to have much effect as the government and the Supreme Court have so far scuppered any attempts by the opposition to push through bills which President Maduro opposes.
The recall referendum, which has been the opposition’s main strategy to drive Mr Maduro from office, is also stalled after the suspension of the second stage by the electoral authorities.
The opposition will likely look abroad for help in laying pressure on the government, in particular to the regional body Organization of American States (OAS).
OAS head Luis Almagro has previously threatened to invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which could lead to sanctions being imposed on Venezuela.
The opposition has also called for nationwide protests for Wednesday.