President Donald Ramotar suspended the National Assembly using an unusual constitutional procedure to avert a no-confidence vote that the opposition in the South American country likened to a coup.

Ramotar defended his decision to suspend the assembly for a maximum of six months under a procedure known as a "prorogue," a step below the dissolution of parliament.

The measure would allow his administration to negotiate with the opposition-controlled parliament on a legislative agenda without calling early elections. Allowing the no-confidence debate to go forward, he said, would only deepen the political stalemate in the country.

"I have taken this step with the hope that the time gained would be used for the benefit our people," he said on Monday.

Members of the National Assembly rallied outside the parliament building and denounced the suspension, which came on the first day they were supposed to return from an annual two-month recess.

Brigadier General David Granger, a retired Army commander and the opposition leader, said Ramotar's action was a "denial of democracy" that has effectively "paralysed the parliamentary process and smothered the voices of the people."

He and other members of the opposition said they would challenge the suspension in the courts.

Moses Nagamootoo, whose Alliance For Change party had filed the no confidence vote in September, called the administration "a recalcitrant and renegade government" and he vowed to try again to bring the vote whenever parliament reconvenes.

Ramotar could reconvene parliament before the end of the six months if he reaches an agreement with the opposition but that seems unlikely since legislatures have blocked his initiatives since he took office in December 2011.

The next round of elections must be called by November 2016 but now are likely to be held earlier.

Source: Agencies