'Venezuela will be respected': Maduro defends rule as legitimate

Nicolas Maduro defends 'legitimacy' ahead of his controversial inauguration for a second six-year term.

    Nicolas Maduro is the political heir to Venezuela's late leftist President Hugo Chavez [File: Marco Bello/Reuters]
    Nicolas Maduro is the political heir to Venezuela's late leftist President Hugo Chavez [File: Marco Bello/Reuters]

    Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has defended his government's legitimacy amid growing opposition and international condemnation of his bid for a second six-year term.

    In a Tweet on Sunday, Maduro, who is to be sworn in on Thursday, said the Venezuelan people had given "legitimacy" to his administration "with their vote".

    "To those who hope to break our will, make no mistake. Venezuela will be respected!" he said.

    His comments came after the opposition-controlled National Assembly declared Maduro's presidency illegitimate and called on the military to support efforts to "restore democracy" in the South American country.

    Speaking at the start of a new legislative session on Saturday, Juan Guaido, the assembly's new president, said legislators reaffirmed "the illegitimacy of Nicolas Maduro". 

    "As of January 10, he will be usurping the presidency and consequently this National Assembly is the only legitimate representative of the people," he said. 

    The assembly was rendered powerless by Venezuela's Supreme Court after the opposition gained a majority there in 2016. 

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    Maduro, who has presided over a virtual collapse of the economy in the oil-rich state, won an election last May widely condemned by the international community.

    The ballot was called by the administration-backed Constituent Assembly and boycotted by the opposition, many of whose best-known leaders were under house arrest or barred from running.

    Turnout for the single-round vote was about 46 percent, according to Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE), significantly lower than the 80 percent recorded during the country's last presidential election in 2013.

    The United States, the European Union and a bloc of countries from the Americas called the Lima Group have refused to recognise the poll result. 

    On Friday, the 14-member Lima Group - which consists of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia - issued a joint statement calling on Maduro to cede power and open the way for a transitional government formed by leaders of the National Assembly.

    The US State Department, meanwhile, issued a statement on Saturday saying the United States stands with the National Assembly as "the only legitimate and last remaining democratically elected institution that truly represents the will of the Venezuelan people".

    The US has imposed sweeping sanctions on Venezuela in response to Maduro's alleged erosion of the country's democracy.

    Reacting to the State Department's comments, the Venezuelan foreign ministry accused Washington of attempting "to consummate a coup d'etat ... in promoting the repudiation of legitimate and democratic institutions" in a statement issued on Sunday.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies