Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro declared a 'usurper' by opposition-led congress

Venezuela's opposition-run congress on Tuesday formally declared President Nicolas Maduro a "usurper" whose actions would be considered null and void, after he was sworn in last week for a disputed second term.

Canada has rejected Maduro's presidency, called on him to cede power

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro gestures after receiving the presidential sash during the ceremonial swearing-in for his second presidential term on Jan. 10. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Venezuela's opposition-run congress on Tuesday formally declared President Nicolas Maduro a "usurper" whose actions would be considered null and void, after he was sworn in last week for a disputed second term.

Maduro was inaugurated on Jan. 10 under an avalanche of criticism that his leadership was illegitimate following a 2018 election widely viewed as fraudulent.

The United States and many Latin American nations say Maduro has become a dictator whose failed state-led policies have plunged Venezuela into its worst ever economic crisis, with no recovery in sight.

Canada has rejected the legitimacy of Maduro's presidency, imposed sanctions against 70 Maduro regime officials, and is part of a group of five countries that has referred the situation to the International Criminal Court. It has also demanded Maduro cede power to the National Assembly. 

Lawmakers attend a session at the opposition-controlled National Assembly to debate actions against Maduro on Tuesday. The president is under heightened pressure from opposition politicians and foreign leaders to step down. (Fernando Llano/Associated Press)

Maduro says a U.S.-directed "economic war" is trying to force him from power.

The declaration from the National Assembly calls for a "political transition" to a new government.

"Today, congress declares that at this time there is no president of the republic," Jorge Millan, an opposition legislator, said in a speech. "Let's start the process to recover the constitutional order."

The body is also due to consider a measure that would ask dozens of foreign governments to freeze bank accounts controlled by Maduro's government, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

The National Assembly will request that governments instruct regulatory agencies to "prohibit any movement of liquid assets by the Venezuelan state in local bank accounts," the document says.

The governments include the United States, European Union, and Latin American neighbours such as Chile and Brazil. The U.S. and EU have already imposed sanctions that limit the sale of Venezuelan government debt and freeze assets belonging to Maduro and a number of his top officials.

Asked if further sanctions could be in the works, a White House spokesperson said the U.S. is considering "all diplomatic, political and economic tools in its arsenal in response to the usurpation of power by the illegitimate Maduro regime."

Juan Guaido, president of Venezuela's National Assembly, speaks during a session in Caracas on Tuesday. (Manaure Quintero/Reuters)

Last week, Juan Guaido, who was elected president of the National Assembly, said he was willing to replace Maduro with the support of the military. Several government officials have said he should be arrested for treason and on Sunday he was briefly detained by intelligence agents.

Lawmakers are discussing a future amnesty for government officials and military officers who reject Maduro and help bring about a return to democracy.

Venezuela's Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the measure.

The pro-government Supreme Court, which has been in open conflict with the legislature since the opposition took it over in 2016, has ruled that all laws the National Assembly passes are invalid.

Diosdado Cabello, president of the Constituent Assembly, a legislative superbody elected in 2017 that gives the ruling Socialist Party sweeping powers, said on Tuesday that the opposition in congress were "the only ones trying to usurp power."

"They've spent 20 years trying to force us from government," Cabello told a news conference.

With files from CBC News