Venezuela's Controversial Constituent Assembly Opens

St Peter's Cathedral in Vatican

Ignacio J. Alvarez is Ortega's representative to the proceedings in Washington.

Photo Ms. Ortega spoke to reporters outside her office on Saturday. The vote has also come under question amid allegations of fraud and vote rigging. As one of its first tasks, Maduro has ordered the assembly to declare Ortega Diaz's office in a state of emergency and entirely restructure it.

But supporters say it will pacify a country rocked by violent protests.

The assembly is due to meet again on Saturday, and Ms Rodriguez said it would take swift action.

"Well, the situation here is that now we have two parliaments: one is dominated by the opposition, and another by Nicolas Maduro".

As foreign minister, she was a staunch critic of regional efforts to solve the country's crisis, making her name with angry rants against the US and the Organization of American States.

Rodriguez on Friday said: "The worldwide community should not make a mistake over Venezuela".

Assembly delegates marched to the neo-classical legislative palace accompanied by hundreds of red-shirted government supporters. Some were carrying roses and large portraits of the late Hugo Chavez, predecessor and mentor to President Nicolas Maduro.

The opposition boycotted the July 30 election for the constitutional assembly, saying the rules were rigged to further entrench Maduro's "dictatorship".

Leading the procession was first lady Cilia Flores and socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello.

Also Saturday, the South American trade bloc Mercosur moved to suspend Venezuela for failing to follow democratic norms.

Mercosur has no provision for expulsion - it had suspended Venezuela temporarily in December for not complying with the bloc's regulations, and toughened its stance following the weekend's controversial election. "It is not possible to inflict such torture to the people", Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Ferreira said after the meeting.

Tillerson's comments follow controversial elections held in Venezuela last Sunday, when millions of voters turned out to choose delegates for a National Constituent Assembly to rewrite the constitution - in spite of hostility from the United States and a boycott from the national opposition. Saab now serves as Venezuela's top ombudsman.

The Trump administration previously placed personal sanctions on Maduro in response to Sunday's election, including travel restrictions and the freezing of assets, while senior officials are also considering additional sanctions on Venezuela's oil industry, which represents 95 percent of the country's total exports.

"We will not stop until we achieve it", he said. "I want to thank Maduro for having stirred the wise powers of the Venezuelan people".

The Vatican called for a "negotiated solution" that would provide humanitarian aid, fair elections and the release of political prisoners, and it appealed for an end to the violence that has plagued the country.

Pope Francis invited the faithful worldwide to pray for the country and its people.

A prominent Venezuelan opposition leader has been returned to his home after spending several days jailed. In a pre-dawn tweet, Ledezma's wife said that her husband had just been brought to his residence.

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