CARACAS – At least 30 supporters of Venezuela’s leftist government burst into the opposition-controlled National Assembly on Wednesday and attacked several legislators.
“Emergency. Paramilitary groups enter the AN (Asamblea Nacional). Lawmakers wounded. In the photos @ArmandoArmas,” congressman Jose Manuel Olivares said in a Twitter post accompanied by images of Armas with a bloodied head.
Police assigned to the congressional security detail eventually expelled the intruders, but the government partisans continued to block the entrances and exits.
The invaders, many of them dressed in red and armed with poles and firecrackers, attacked just as the assembly was holding a ceremony to mark the 206th anniversary of Venezuelan independence.
Besides lawmakers, the assailants targeted journalists, including EFE photographer Cristian Hernandez, who had his equipment seized.
At least five legislators and seven congressional employees were hurt, according to assembly speaker Julio Borges.
President Nicolas Maduro denounced the attack on the National Assembly and ordered an investigation. However, according to witnesses, Venezuela’s Vice President Tareck El Aissami and the Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino were at the vicinity of the parliament just before the attack.
“I absolutely condemn those deeds,” he said from the scene of an independence-day parade in Caracas. “I condemn them and I have ordered that they be investigated and that justice be done.”
Despite the disruption, the opposition alliance that dominates congress managed to approve a bill mandating a July 16 referendum on Maduro’s plan to convene a Constituent Assembly with authority to overhaul the 1998 constitution.
The ballot for the proposed plebiscite is also to include a question about holding a presidential election this year, instead of in October 2018, as scheduled.
The president, meanwhile, insists that only the National Electoral Council is empowered to organize any kind of voting process.
More than 80 people have died in Venezuela since April 1 amid rival mobilizations by supporters and opponents of the government.
Fatalities have included partisans on both sides, along with police and other public employees as well as bystanders.