Opposition lawmaker Julio Borges arrives with a bruised face to his political party's headquarters before speaking to the press in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, April 30, 2013. (Photo: AP)
CARACAS, Venezuela (TheBlaze/AP) — Venezuela's leadership is incredibly delicate in the wake of longtime leader Hugo Chavez' death. While there has always been tension between the parties, lawmakers exploded Tuesday night into a violent brawl that left at least one opposition member badly bruised and bleeding.
Pro-government legislators started throwing punches after members of the opposition coalition unfurled a banner in the National Assembly protesting a new ban stripping opposition lawmakers of most of their legislative powers, opposition lawmaker Ismael Garcia told The Associated Press.
Stunning video showed groups of legislators punching and shoving each other on the floor, more like a drunken bar fight than a political dispute.
Assembly member Julio Borges appeared on an independent television station soon after Tuesday night's brawl with blood running down one side of his swollen face. The opposition said at least 17 of its allies and five pro-government deputies were injured.
Pro-government legislators then appeared on state TV accusing opposition members of attacking them.
Here's video of the unexpected scene:
The opposition has refused to accept Chavez heir Nicolas Maduro's narrow April 14 presidential victory, saying the government's 1.49 percent margin resulted from fraud.
In retaliation, the government-dominated assembly has barred opposition lawmakers from public speaking and sitting on legislative committees.
Since the election the government has arrested dozens of protesters, mostly students. Most have been released, but many say there were subjected to physical abuse and humiliation while detained.
The government has also arrested a 35-year-old American filmmaker and a retired general who became a prominent member of the opposition. Both men are charged with illegally adding demonstrations that the government says were aimed at destabilizing the country.
Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles is boycotting an audit of the election and plans to file a challenge seeking to overturn it in court.
But Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly, has barred opposition lawmakers from speaking until they public recognize Maduro's victory.
"Without a word, like cowards, they came at us from behind," said Garcia, the opposition lawmaker.
Garcia said state television, which alone has the right to broadcast from inside the National Assembly, cut its transmission when the fight erupted.
Maduro accused the opposition of provoking the violence, which he condemned and called on the country to work out its disputes peacefully.
"We don't agree with violence," he said on national TV. "This can't be repeated. We spoke personally with Diosdado Cabello and he's going to take the disciplinary measures needed so that these events don't repeat themselves."
Cabello, considered one of the most powerful men in the country for his ties to the business community and army, has repeatedly defended barring opposition lawmakers from speaking. He said that if they don't recognize the legitimacy of the presidential election, they are casting doubt on the national electoral system that elected them, thus losing their own legitimacy.
The opposition lawmakers have also lost their seats on legislative commissions.
Carreno described government backers' action in the fight as self-defense.
"If I'm standing here and you come to attack me, it's likely that I'll react, but it's the aggressor who went out with a black eye," he said.
Bottom line: there appears to be trouble in post-Chavez Venezuela.
Associated Press writer Michael Weissenstein contributed to this report.