Fistfight breaks out among MPs in Venezuelan parliament
Venezuela's post-election tensions have erupted into a brawl between MPs that left at least one opposition member badly bruised and bleeding.
Pro-government members started throwing punches after the opposition coalition unfurled a banner in the National Assembly protesting a post-election ban stripping opposition lawmakers of most of their legislative powers, opposition MP Ismael Garcia said.
Video showed groups of MPs shoving and pushing each other on the floor. One, Julio Borges, appeared on an independent television station soon after the brawl with blood running down one side of his swollen face. The opposition said at least 17 of its allies and five pro-government deputies were injured.
Pro-government MPs appeared on state TV accusing opposition members of attacking them. The opposition has refused to accept President Nicolas Maduro's narrow April 14 victory, saying the government's 1.49% margin resulted from fraud like votes cast in the names of the thousands of dead people found on current voting rolls.
In retaliation, the government-dominated assembly has barred opposition MPs from public speaking and sitting on legislative committees. Tuesday's fight was the second in which the opposition said the other side attacked them for protesting the ban.
Since the election the government has arrested dozens of protesters, mostly students. Most have been released but many say there were subjected to physical abuse and humiliation while detained. The government has also arrested a 35-year-old American filmmaker and a retired general who became a prominent member of the opposition. Both men are charged with illegally adding demonstrations that the government says were aimed at destabilizing the country.
Both two sides planned to take to the streets on in different parts of the capital for marches celebrating International Workers' Day. Both appeared to be trying to avoid confrontation by choosing separate locations and calling for peaceful demonstrations, although fears of violence were running high.
Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles is boycotting an audit of the election and plans to file a challenge seeking to overturn it in court. Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly, has barred opposition MPs from speaking until they public recognise Mr Maduro's victory.
On Tuesday, Pedro Carreno, head of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela in the National Assembly, asked for an extension of the ban on public speaking by the opposition, whose members unfurled a banner reading "coup against the parliament". "Without a word, like cowards, they came at us from behind," said Garcia, the opposition MP.
Mr Maduro accused the opposition of provoking the violence, which he condemned and called on the country to work out its disputes peacefully. "We don't agree with violence," he said on national TV. "This can't be repeated. We spoke personally with Diosdado Cabello and he's going to take the disciplinary measures needed so that these events don't repeat themselves."