Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognised as the country’s rightful interim ruler, arrives at the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly, an all-powerful legislature controlled by the ruling Socialist Party, on Tuesday approved a measure allowing for a trial of opposition leader Juan Guaido, in what appeared to be step toward having him arrested.

Guaido, leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, in January invoked the country’s constitution to assume the interim presidency after declaring President Nicolas Maduro’s 2018 re-election a fraud.

He has been recognized by the United States and most other Western nations as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, and has said he does not recognize decisions emanating from the Maduro government.

The Constituent Assembly’s decree is necessary for the Supreme Court to move ahead with a trial of Guaido because as a legislator he has parliamentary immunity that makes it more difficult for him to be tried than the average citizen.

“This formally authorizes the continuation of the trial (of Guaido),” said Constituent Assembly Chief Diosdado Cabello, who is also the Vice President of the Socialist Party.

Guaido on Monday told reporters the Constituent Assembly was not legally capable of stripping his immunity. The opposition considers the creation of the Constituent Assembly illegal.

“You know how the regime behaves – this is not just persecution anymore, this is inquisition,” Guaido said.

Maduro has said Guaido should “face justice” and calls him a coup-mongering puppet for the United States – but he has stopped short of calling for his arrest.

Guaido’s international backers, chiefly the Trump administration, have warned Venezuelan authorities not to touch him and threatened ever harsher sanctions against the Maduro administration to further cut it off from foreign financing.

Reporting by Angus Berwick and Vivian Sequera; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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