Nicolas Maduro has been sworn in as Venezuela’s president-elect, months before he is due to formally take the oath of office next year for a second term.
The inauguration-like pomp left many confused because Mr Maduro’s next six-year term does not begin until January 10 and he is already president.
The ceremony came at a session of the pro-government constitutional assembly that has largely taken over powers of the opposition-led legislature.
In an address, Mr Maduro defended Sunday’s presidential election, calling it “free and “constitutional” despite being rejected as illegitimate by his leading challenger, by the United States and a coalition of Latin American countries.
Official results showed Mr Maduro topping his closest challenger, Henri Falcon, by 47 percentage points.
Those sanctions will bring serious difficulties, painful difficulties that we will face and will overcome and will defeatNicolas Maduro
Mr Falcon rejected the vote and called for a new election, accusing Mr Maduro of buying votes of the poor by offering prizes.
Mr Maduro said he recognised troubles facing Venezuelans, yet vowed to press forward with the country’s socialist policies, which have prompted crushing US sanctions.
“I won’t lie,” Mr Maduro said.
“Those sanctions will bring serious difficulties, painful difficulties that we will face and will overcome and will defeat.”
Venezuela was once among Latin American’s wealthiest nations, but it has sunk into deep economic crisis under Mr Maduro, who replaced his mentor, the late-president Hugo Chavez, in 2013.
In a gesture toward mending Venezuela’s deep divides, Mr Maduro called on a commission under the constitutional assembly to consider releasing some prisoners, without providing details.
In the days following the election, Mr Maduro has expelled two top US diplomats from Venezuela, drawing an equal response from Washington.
At the same time as Mr Maduro’s ceremony, US Charge d’affaires Todd Robinson and deputy head of mission, Brian Naranjo, were flying out of the country.