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Guaido warns Venezuela's Maduro over moves to advance legislative elections
[CARACAS] Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido warned President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday that any attempts to bring forward parliamentary elections would end in "disaster" for the government.
Elections to renew the National Assembly, the only branch of government under opposition control, are set for December 2020.
But the Constituent Assembly, a rival body created by the Maduro regime and given extraordinary powers superseding the National Assembly, has hinted at the possibility of ordering early elections.
Such a maneuver could threaten the opposition's hold on the National Assembly and with it Mr Guaido's claim as head of the legislature to be the country's legitimate president.
But Mr Guaido insisted it would backfire, further isolating Mr Maduro, who has so far withstood opposition challenges to his presidency with the support of the military.
"What would happen if the regime dared to - and it could - bring forward an irregular convocation for elections without any conditions?" said Mr Guaido.
"They will drown in contradictions, in isolation - they will drown in disaster."
Constituent Assembly president Diosdado Cabello, the most powerful regime figure after Mr Maduro, admitted on Monday the move was a "counter-attack" after the United States increased its sanctions on the government.
The Lima Group, which consists of Canada and a dozen Latin American countries that are helping to mediate the crisis, issued a statement rejecting "categorically the threat of the Maduro regime's illegitimate National Constituent Assembly to unconstitutionally call for early elections".
Venezuela has been locked in a political crisis since the legislature branded Mr Maduro a "usurper" in January over his controversial re-election last year in a poll widely denounced as rigged.
As the head of the National Assembly, Mr Guaido demanded Mr Maduro step down and declared himself acting president in a move recognised by more than 50 countries.
The government and the opposition have engaged in Norwegian-mediated talks but those negotiations appear blocked over the opposition's demand that Mr Maduro step down so new elections can be held.
In the meantime, the regime has stepped up pressure on opposition legislators by stripping 25 of them of their parliamentary immunity over their alleged support for a failed April uprising instigated by Mr Guaido.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini's spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said these moves were "another direct attack on the only democratically elected body in Venezuela".
US President Donald Trump's National Security Advisor John Bolton urged the "international community to hold the tyrant Maduro accountable".