US official dismisses 'desperate' move to oust Venezuela's Guaido

Washington (AFP) - A senior US official on Sunday dismissed as "desperate" a move by Venezuelan police to prevent opposition leader Juan Guaido from entering the National Assembly, where he had hoped to be voted in for a second term as speaker.

Police and national guards allowed only regime lawmakers and deputies critical of Guaido to enter the building. He tried to climb over a railing to force his way in but was blocked.

Guaido's position as speaker was the justification he used in proclaiming himself the country's acting president nearly a year ago, alleging that President Nicolas Maduro's 2018 re-election was fraudulent.

"The desperate actions of the former Maduro regime, illegally forcibly preventing Juan Guaido... from entering the building, make this morning's 'vote,' which lacks quorum and does not meet minimum constitutional standards, a farce," said Michael Kozak, acting assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Guaido "remains Venezuela's interim president under its constitution," Kozak added.

Venezuela's state television channel VTV broadcast images of rival deputy Luis Parra declaring himself head of the chamber, as Guaido and fellow opposition lawmakers waited in frustration outside.

"ALERT! Parliamentary coup," the National Assembly said on its Twitter account.

Prominent Republican US Senator Marco Rubio decried the development.

"How could #MaduroRegime think they would get away with this sham?" he tweeted. "These people are really dumb."

- 'Accomplices of dictatorship'-

Guaido had earlier hit out at the Maduro regime for selectively blocking entry to the National Assembly -- the only government branch in opposition hands.

He said on Twitter that Maduro's supporters were "converting themselves into accomplices of the dictatorship."

Guaido has led the National Assembly for a year, and analysts said he had the votes to be re-elected -- had he and his supporters not been blocked.

He sprang to prominence a year ago when he declared himself acting president -- quickly gaining support from some 50 countries, including the United States -- in a direct challenge to Maduro's authority during a crippling economic crisis.

Maduro's re-election was widely denounced as problematic.

But he has managed to cling to power -- helped by backing from Russia, China and Cuba -- and Guaido has seen his own popularity drop.