CARACAS: Venezuelan police blocked an opposition lawmaker from returning to the legislature to retake her seat on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) and fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of her supporters.
In a direct challenge to President Nicolas Maduro, Maria Corina Machado had vowed to attend the National Assembly, despite her removal from office being confirmed on Monday by the Supreme Court.
“You will not break us! You will make us stronger! You will give us more reasons to fight,” Machado shouted at police who blocked her on the street a block away from the building.
With Venezuela’s red, blue and gold flag around her neck and a white rose in her hand to symbolize peace, 46-year-old Machado waved her lawmaker’s identity card but made no headway.
Backed by 22 opposition lawmakers and a crowd of praising her courage, she was confronted by a small group of supporters of the late president Hugo Chavez denouncing her as a “traitor.”
Police lobbed tear gas to break up the crowd.
Machado said the block on her returning to her seat was “proof that there is a dictatorship in Venezuela.”
The head of the legislature had expelled Machado, of opposition coalition Table for Democratic Unity (MUD), and stripped her of her legislative immunity last week after she tried to speak before the Organization of American States (OAS) about her country’s political crisis.
Diosdado Cabello, the assembly speaker and head of the ruling United Socialist Party, contends that Machado forfeited her seat when she was accredited to the Panamanian delegation to the OAS, a Washington-based pan-American bloc.
She attended a closed-door meeting of the OAS permanent council on March 21, but Caracas blocked an open session on the anti-government protests that have roiled the country since February.
Venezuela broke off diplomatic relations with Panama on March 5.
“She is not going to enter. She is not a deputy,” Cabello said in response to Machado’s vow to defy his order.
Backing the decision, government supporters delivered a complaint to the attorney general on Tuesday accusing Machado of “treason of the homeland.”
Maduro’s leftist government has faced a wave of near-daily street protests since February 4, with the public venting anger over soaring crime, high inflation and shortages of essential goods.
At least 39 people have died in the unrest.
Maduro, the heir Venezuela late long-term leader Chavez, has lashed out at the demonstrations, branding them a “fascist” US-backed plot to overthrow his government.