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Venezuelan Congress Accuses President Nicolas Maduro of Staging ‘Coup’

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela's Congress declared Sunday that the government had staged a coup by blocking a drive to recall President Nicolas Maduro in a raucous legislative session that was interrupted when his supporters stormed the chamber.

Opposition lawmakers vowed to put Maduro on trial after a court friendly to his socialist administration suspended their campaign Thursday to collect signatures to hold a referendum on removing the deeply unpopular president.

IMAGE: Venezuelan protest
Pro-government supporters try to storm the National Assembly in Caracas on Sunday. Ariana Cubillos / AP

Lawmaker Julio Borges said the opposition-led congress is now in open rebellion after a majority of its members voted that the decision constituted a coup with government participation.

"We will bring a political trial against President Nicolas Maduro to get to the bottom of his role in the break with democracy and human rights here," Borges said.

A day of fiery speeches was briefly thrown into chaos when dozens of red-shirted protesters who had been heckling opposition lawmakers outside the capitol burst onto the floor. Lawmakers ran out of the path of protesters who chanted: "Congress will fall!"

IMAGE: Venezuelan opposition
A lawmaker holds up a sing reading 'Maduro dictator' in Spanish, referring to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, during a special session Sunday at the National Assembly in Caracas. Ariana Cubillos / AP

It wasn't immediately clear how the protesters entered the heavily guarded building, which has been under the opposition's control since it won legislative elections in a landslide in December. The protesters filed out after Socialist Party leader Jorge Rodriguez called on them to leave, leading the opposition to charge that Rodriguez was directing the protest.

Opposition spokesman Jesus Torrealba said the protest on the floor was a perfect illustration of the opposition's complaint that democracy has been suspended in the oil-producing country.

"The fact that lawmakers elected by 7.5 million people were silenced by 300 thugs sums up the situation better than any speech could," he said.

Legislators also proposed efforts to replace national elections officials and Supreme Court judges.

Amid severe shortages and the world's highest inflation, polls suggest that as many as 80 percent of voters want Maduro gone this year.

A push to take legal action against the president would throw the country further into a constitutional crisis, but it would probably not prevail because the administration controls the courts and other major institutions.