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Government supporters storm Venezuela congress

Pro-government militias wielding wooden sticks and metal bars have stormed congress and began attacking opposition politicians during a special session coinciding with Venezuela's independence day.

Four politicians were injured. One of them, Americo de Grazia, had to be taken in a stretcher to an ambulance suffering from convulsions, said a fellow congressman.

"This doesn't hurt as much as watching how every day how we lose a little bit more of our country," Armando Arias said from inside an ambulance as he was being treated for head wounds that spilled blood across his clothes.

The attack, in plain view of national guardsmen assigned to protect the legislature, comes amid three months of often-violent confrontations between security forces and protesters who accuse the government of trying to establish a dictatorship by jailing foes, pushing aside the opposition-controlled legislature and rewriting the constitution to avoid fair elections.

Tensions were already high after vice president Tareck El Aissami made an unannounced morning visit to the neoclassical legislature, accompanied by top government and military officials, for an event celebrating independence day.

Standing next to a display case holding Venezuela's declaration of independence from Spain, he said global powers are once again trying to subjugate Venezuela.

"We still haven't finished definitively breaking the chains of the empire," Mr El Aissami said, adding that President Nicolas Maduro's plans to rewrite the constitution - a move the opposition sees as a power-grab - offers Venezuela the best chance to be truly independent.

After he left, dozens of government supporters set up a picket outside the building, heckling politicians with menacing chants and eventually invading the legislature themselves.

Despite the violence, politicians approved a plan by the opposition to hold a symbolic referendum on July 16 that would give voters the chance to reject Mr Maduro's plans to draft a new political charter.

Later Mr Maduro condemned the violence, calling for a full investigation during a speech while attending a military parade.


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