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Venezuela opens constituent assembly, restores opposition leader's house arrest

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Venezuela opens constituent assembly, restores opposition leader's house arrest

Venezuela on Aug. 4 inaugurated a newly elected constituent assembly that could rewrite the constitution, dissolve state institutions and give vast powers to President Nicolas Maduro's ruling socialist party.

The 545-member assembly is expected to hold parallel sessions with the existing opposition-controlled congress in the same building, according to Reuters and the BBC. The new legislative body could close down the latter or override its decisions.

Maduro, who claimed that the assembly was needed to bring peace in oil-rich Venezuela, had said that the controversial body will remove opposition lawmakers' constitutional immunity from prosecution, the BBC and The Guardian noted.

Before opening the assembly, the government released opposition leader Antonio Ledezma from prison and placed him back under house arrest, Reuters reported. The opposition has called for protests against the assembly, which ignited strong international response, including sanctions from the U.S. and Venezuela's possible suspend from the South American trade bloc Mercosur.

Amid the ongoing turmoil, Venezuela's currency, the bolivar, has sunk more than 45% on the black market since the July 30 vote. According to dolartoday, US$1 bought 18,983 bolivars as of Aug. 4, compared to 10,390 bolivars a week earlier. Venezuela's official DIPRO exchange rate still stands at 10 bolivars to US$1.