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All-powerful Venezuelan assembly opens amid protests

All-powerful Venezuelan assembly opens amid protests

Venezuela's controversial pro-government assembly got to work Friday on rewriting the country's constitution, as a top opposition leader was released from prison. Some were carrying roses and large portraits of the late Hugo Chavez, predecessor and mentor to President Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuelan opposition leader and the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, is now under house arrest after spending three days in jail, according to the BBC.

Some shouted, "He's returned!" as a jab at the opposition, which had ordered images of Chavez removed from an adjacent building when it won control of congress in 2015.

The opposition boycotted Sunday's election of the Constituent Assembly, arguing that the rules were rigged to benefit the government, and almost all the candidates were supporters of Maduro's administration.

Governments from Spain to Canada to Argentina have spoken out against the assembly.

The Catholic bishops of Venezuela have consistently opposed the government's expansion of powers and endorsed public resistance, while Pope Francis has avoided siding with either party in the Venezuelan conflict.

Constituent Assembly elected to rewrite constitution holds first session in Caracas as opposition plans more protests.

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Over the last four months, Caracas has been rocked by violent protests which have resulted in the deaths of 125 people, and more than 5,000 people have been detained by security forces.

"There has been a gradual erosion of democratic practise and this is a significant line that has been crossed", said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based think tank Inter-American Dialogue. Smartmatic CEO Antonio Mugica said Wednesday in London that results recorded by his company's systems and those reported by the National Electoral Council show the official turnout count of 8 million was off by at least 1 million votes.

The Constituent Assembly marks a new stage in Venezuela's rule.

The US State Department called the Assembly illegitimate Thursday, saying the election was rigged to further entrench "the Maduro dictatorship".

The new assembly has been strongly condemned by local Opposition forces who said it is nothing more than an attempt by the Maduro administration to grab power.

"The United States will not recognise the National Constituent Assembly", spokeswoman Heath Nauert said.

The 545-member assembly was expected to hold its first session later in the day.