Friday, August 27, 1999 Published at 01:43 GMT 02:43 UK
Venezuela's Congress vows defiance
Police guard Caracas's parliamentary building where both bodies meet
Congressional leaders in Venezuela have vowed to convene on Friday in defiance of order from the country's constitutional assembly virtually shutting down the law making body.
The assembly, which is controlled by supporters of President Hugo Chavez, issued a decree on Wednesday stripping Congress of almost all its powers, including the right to meet.
The decree restricts Congress to passing budgets and some administrative duties.
The move comes despite a Supreme Court ruling that the assembly was elected to do nothing more than re-write a constitution.
Opposition politicians, who control Congress, have described the assembly's moves as a coup against one of Latin America's oldest democracies and say President Chavez is using the body to assume dictatorial powers.
"Now there is no constitution, there is no Supreme Court and there is no Congress," said Jorge Olavarria, one of only six opposition delegates in the 131-seat constitutional assembly.
South American legal experts have described the assembly's actions as a serious intervention in Venezuela's sovereign institutions.
More than half of the country's 23 million population live in poverty despite the fact that Venezuela is said to have larger oil reserves than any country outside the Middle East.
The BBC's Latin America Correspondent, Peter Greste, says Congress's decision to meet sets the stage for a showdown in the parliament building in Caracas where the two bodies sit.
But he says opinion polls indicate that most Venezuelans back Mr Chavez's campaign.
Congressmen have said they fear that the national guard or supporters of President Chavez could surround parliament to stop them from entering.