CARACAS • A mob stormed Venezuela's opposition-dominated National Assembly with the apparent acquiescence of government troops and carried out a startling attack on lawmakers and journalists.
Bloodied lawmakers were treated for broken ribs and head injuries, and journalists said the attackers had stolen their equipment.
The episode in Caracas on Wednesday, which coincided with Venezuela's Independence Day, was a sharp escalation of lawlessness in a country roiled by a failing economy and daily street demonstrations.
"We're here to defend Venezuela; that's what we were elected to do," opposition lawmaker Armando Armas, wearing a bloodied white shirt, said in a video as two people cleaned what appeared to be head wounds. "Even if it costs us our lives."
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Opposition lawmakers said the attack had been carried out by so-called colectivos, bands of armed men in plainclothes who take their cues from the government of President Nicolas Maduro to thwart demonstrations and intimidate dissidents.
While National Assembly lawmakers have been assaulted before, the latest attack was remarkable because the throng of assailants appeared to face no resistance from national guard forces charged with securing the compound.
The US State Department condemned the assault, saying in a statement: "This violence, perpetrated during the celebration of Venezuela's independence, is an assault on the democratic principles cherished by the men and women who struggled for Venezuela's independence 206 years ago today."
The assault came amid an escalating political fight over Mr Maduro's effort to convene a constituent assembly that could render the elected National Assembly powerless. The stand-off has stoked unprecedented violence in recent days.
Earlier on Wednesday, a Venezuelan police officer who had carried out a brazen attack from a commandeered government helicopter last week warned of a "new phase" in a would-be insurrection against Mr Maduro's government.
Officer Oscar Perez said in an online video that his attack on June 27 had been a success, inflicting structural damage on the Supreme Court and Interior Ministry buildings in Caracas, the capital, without leaving any "collateral damage".
Mr Maduro has infuriated his opponents by launching a plan to form an assembly to rewrite the Constitution. Opponents say he will pack this constituent assembly with allies in a bid to cling to power. Voting for members of the assembly is scheduled for July 30.
"However, the political crisis is so fluid that the country could reach a tipping point before then," Eurasia Group analysts wrote in a note last week.
NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE