Venezuela opposition wants probe of violence

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Associated Press

Posted on May 2, 2013 at 11:33 PM

Updated Thursday, May 2 at 11:33 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's opposition on Thursday asked prosecutors to investigate a brawl on the floor of congress that injured several of its lawmakers and forced at least one of them to undergo surgery.

Congressman Julio Borges, who suffered head injuries when ruling party member Michele Reyes repeatedly struck him in the face, met with federal prosecutors to demand the probe into who was responsible for Tuesday's clash in the National Assembly.

"We were brutally attacked," Borges said, even as government officials argued that opposition lawmakers provoked the violence.

The extent of the violence is becoming clearer as opposition politician reveal the contents of videos recorded during the session.

One video unveiled by opposition lawmakers on Thursday showed Reyes, a large man, lunging toward Borges, then landing numerous punches on each side of the opposition politician's face.

At another point, a man standing among a group of ruling party members threw what appears to be a glass bottle at opposition lawmaker Eduardo Gomez Sigala as he fought off several aggressors.

The video also showed pro-government lawmaker Nancy Ascencio making a kicking movement as she stood over a person lying on the floor.

Immediately afterward, Ascencio shouted at the person below her and walked away as opposition lawmaker Maria Corina Machado was lifted off the floor.

The Prosecutor's Office did not comment on Borges' demands. Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega is widely considered to be a close ally of prominent ruling party members and prosecution of lawmakers would be nearly impossible because they enjoy immunity from most criminal charges.

Machado underwent surgery Thursday on her nose, which she said was broken when political rivals threw her to the floor and repeatedly kicked her in the face.

National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello has blamed opposition lawmakers for the violence because they blew whistles and air horns and unveiled a protest banner during Tuesday's session after Cabello refused to let them speak.

The opposition rejects the official result of the April 14 presidential election narrowly won by Nicolas Maduro, the hand-picked successor of the late President Hugo Chavez, who died earlier this year.

Gerardo Fernandez, an attorney representing Capriles, said a team of lawyers challenged the election result in court on Thursday.

But Capriles has said he does not expect the Supreme Court, which is packed with government-friendly justices, to overturn the vote results as sought by the opposition.

Cabello has argued that the challenge by opposition lawmakers means that they do not accept their own election under the same system, and has subsequently blocked some of their legislative rights.

Before Wednesday's session began, opposition politicians discovered that microphones had been removed from their desks.

"The worse crime isn't the attack, it's denying the right to speak," Borges said.

During a televised speech on Thursday, Maduro accused opposition lawmakers of provoking their ruling-party colleagues in the legislature.

The violence inside the assembly has raised concerns outside the country.

Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, said in a statement that the violence unleashed inside the assembly "dramatically reflects the absence of political dialogue that could bring about tranquility."

Insulza has urged Maduro to take measures to "re-establish the inalienable right of lawmakers to freely express themselves."

Tensions remain high among Venezuelans more than two weeks after Maduro narrowly defeated opposition leader Henrique Capriles to win the presidency.

Capriles and fellow opposition politicians plan to launch an international campaign aimed at demonstrating numerous irregularities during the vote as well as the government's use of state resources that gave Maduro an edge over his rival.

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