CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuela's pro-government constitutional assembly has gathered for the first time, after a procession to the neo-classical legislative palace accompanied by hundreds of red-shirted government supporters.
Some were carrying roses and large portraits of the late Hugo Chavez, predecessor and mentor to President Nicolás Maduro.
Some shouted, "He's returned," as a jab at the opposition, which ordered images of Chavez removed from an adjacent building when it won control of congress in 2015.
Leading the procession was first lady Cilia Flores and socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello.
The assembly is charged with rewriting Chavez's 1999 constitution and has been given sweeping powers over other branches of government.
Former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, the assembly's new head, delivered a stern warning to government opponents. In her words, the "violent fascists, who are waging economic war on the people" will face justice. Her words were greeted with loud applause from the 545 pro-government delegates.
Opposition fails to mobilize protesters
The country has been rocked by months of street protests against what the opposition sees as an increasingly authoritarian socialist government.
Opposition leaders who boycotted last Sunday's election of the new assembly called a mass street demonstration Friday, but by early afternoon the streets were quiet with little or no sign of protesters.
Rodriguez said the all-powerful assembly will commence work Saturday, in theory tasked with rewriting the constitution. Critics say the assembly is a brazen attempt by ruling socialists to stay in power by imposing a virtual dictatorship.
The assembly has been condemned by the United States and the European Union, as well as the Vatican and the governments of Mexico and Argentina and Brazil. The United States imposed sanctions on Maduro earlier this week, and has threatened to sanction the 545 members of the assembly.
Rodriguez didn't say what lies ahead, but some fellow delegates have been pledging to target opposition lawmakers and remove chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega from office as part of their first order of business.
Ortega is a former loyalist who recently broke with President Nicolas Maduro, accusing him of breaking Venezuela's democratic order.
In separate news, a prominent Venezuelan opposition leader has been returned to his home after spending several days jailed. The wife of Antonio Ledezma says on social media that the former Caracas mayor arrived home before dawn Friday.
Security forces forcibly entered Ledesma's apartment before dawn Tuesday and took him to a military prison. Officials accused him of violating the terms of his house arrest by posting anti-government messages on social media.
Also hauled back to jail for the same reason was opposition activist Leopoldo López.
Foreign governments condemned the decision to jail both men, saying it could be the start of a new wave of repression against Maduro's opponents following a vote Sunday to choose delegates to a special assembly to rewrite the nation's constitution.