Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly has voted to open “a political and criminal trial” against President Nicolas Maduro, but the socialist leader dismissed the move as “illegitimate”.
Scuffles erupted between ruling and opposition lawmakers, as the assembly voted on a resolution on Tuesday ordering Maduro to appear at next week’s session.
Opposition politicians are also pushing the argument that the president is constitutionally ineligible to hold Venezuela’s highest office claiming that he is a dual Colombian citizen.
It is unclear what impact the vote will have, as the Supreme Court, which the opposition claims Maduro controls, has ruled the National Assembly’s decisions invalid.
Al Jazeera’s Daniel Schweimler, who has covered Colombia, said the vote indicates “an intensification of the crisis” in the country.
Our correspondent said that while Maduro “enjoys some support” and is “clinging on to power”, there is a “growing number” of people backing his ouster.
“We have an increasing number of people in the street struggling to get food. People are very frustrated and turning their anger towards the government,” he said from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Maduro has been resisting efforts to remove him from power, blocking a drive for a referendum on the move.
Unlike neighbouring Brazil, where Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from the presidency in August, a trial against Maduro is unlikely to gain traction given the government and Supreme Court have declared congress illegitimate.
‘Takeover of Venezuela’
“Legally, the National Assembly does not exist,” said vice-president Aristobulo Isturiz on Tuesday, referring to Supreme Court rulings that measures in congress are null and void until it removes three lawmakers linked to vote-buying claims.
Foes accuse Maduro of wrecking the oil-producing nation’s economy, where food shortages and soaring prices have left many skipping meals and spending hours in long lines.
“In Venezuela we are battling Satan!” said another opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, ratifying plans for nationwide rallies on Wednesday that the opposition have dubbed ‘The Takeover of Venezuela’.
Hit by the fall of global oil prices, Venezuela’s economy has crashed, sparking protests and looting driven by shortages of food, medicine and basic goods.
Maduro calls the economic crisis a capitalist conspiracy.
On Monday, Maduro met with Pope Francis at the Vatican and said afterward that he had the pope’s blessing to launch a “dialogue” with the opposition.
Leaders of the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), however, dismissed that as a ploy, insisting they had not agreed on terms for talks with the government.
The president landed back in Venezuela on Tuesday after a tour to the Middle East, the Vatican and Portugal, television pictures showed.
He was expected to join his supporters in a rally in Caracas later on Tuesday.
Analysts have warned there is a risk of violent unrest in the South American country of 30 million people.
Clashes at anti-government protests in 2014 left 43 people dead.