Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly, made up entirely of loyalists of President Nicolas Maduro, on Monday announced it had extended its mandate to rule the country for another 18 months until the end of next year.
The move comes a year after the contested re-election of embattled Maduro, locked in a struggle for power with Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaido, who has declared himself interim president and is backed by more than 50 countries including the US.
In a decree approved unanimously and which applies immediately, the Constituent Assembly extended its functioning “at least until December 31, 2020.”
The pro-Maduro body has effectively sidelined and replaced Venezuela’s opposition-dominated National Assembly.
It was originally set up by Maduro to write a new constitution, and gave itself absolute power following its creation in August 2017. It has never presented any project related to the constitution.
Its creation — initially intended to last only two years — came after months of anti-Maduro protests that left 125 people dead.
Maduro has presided over the collapse of the oil-rich country’s economy, leading to shortages of basic food and medicine, and causing millions of Venezuelans to flee.
The “Constituent Assembly is the greatest guarantee of political stability,” Maduro said later on Monday, as he rallied thousands of supporters in Caracas to mark the anniversary of his controversial re-election following polls widely denounced as rigged.
Maduro also reiterated his proposal to bring forward National Assembly elections, currently due for December next year, telling the crowd: “I want elections now!”
He referred to a recent effort by Norway to mediate between Venezuela’s opposing factions and said he favored dialogue, though critics accuse him of using past negotiations to play for time.
“Why don’t they respond when I make this proposal?” Maduro said of his election offer to the opposition, which is demanding that he step down to make way for a transitional government before elections can be held.
Supporters carrying “March for Victory” banners took to the streets of Caracas, many waving flags of the ruling Socialist party and wearing red T-shirts as they marched to Miraflores Palace.
“We celebrate the first anniversary of the popular victory of May 20, the day in which Venezuela decided in favor of peace, democracy and freedom,” Maduro wrote on Twitter.
The rally took place exactly one year after Maduro was re-elected with 68 percent of the vote in an election boycotted by the opposition.
“It’s been a battle, a war. They haven’t let him govern,” said Maduro supporter Hector Aular, 62, describing the first year of the new government as “hard.”
Maduro was sworn in for a second six-year term in January, shortly before Guaido, claiming constitutional legitimacy as the National Assembly speaker, declared himself acting president.
Guaido quickly won recognition from more than 50 countries, but has failed to topple Maduro, who is backed by Venezuela creditors China and Russia and retains the support of the powerful military.
Guaido on Monday tweeted: “We reiterate that with peaceful mobilization, international pressure and the growing support of our [armed forces], we will achieve the end of the usurpation... and free elections.”
Also on Monday, Carlos Vecchio, a government opponent who the US recognizes as Venezuela’s ambassador, met with Pentagon officials at the request of Guaido.
Additional reporting by AP
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