CARACAS - Venezuelan police on Tuesday blocked an opposition lawmaker from returning to the legislature, firing tear gas to disperse her supporters in a tense turn of events.
In a direct challenge to President Nicolas Maduro, prominent opposition politician Maria Corina Machado had vowed to take her seat Tuesday in the National Assembly, despite her ouster by the Supreme Court.
But the government warned that Machado, whom it sees as a radical seeking to overthrow it, was no longer a lawmaker.
"You will not break us! You will make us stronger! You will give us more reasons to fight," Machado screamed at police who blocked her on the street a block from the National Assembly.
With Venezuela's red, blue and gold flag around her neck and a white rose in her hand to symbolize peace, Machado waved her lawmaker's credentials.
Supporters shouted "be brave!" while detractors screamed "killer" and "traitor" before police lobbed tear gas to break up the crowd.
Machado said that her dismissal was "proof that in Venezuela there is a dictatorship." and not a legitimate elected government.
Maduro's heavily state-led socialist government has faced a wave of near-daily street protests since February 4, with the public venting anger over soaring crime, high inflation and shortages of essential goods. At least 39 people have died in the unrest.