Leaders of Venezuela's opposition-controlled Congress and a constituent assembly closely aligned with President Hugo Chavez reached a tentative agreement tonight that would allow Congress to reconvene and perform limited functions until new elections early next year.
The proposal, brokered by the Catholic church, was viewed as a concession from the assembly, which last month stripped Congress of virtually all its powers and barred it from meeting. The assembly's brash move set off a firestorm of political protest here and drew international attention as lawmakers accused the assembly and Chavez of trampling over the constitution in an effort to concentrate power in the hands of the president.
The turmoil has troubled Chavez, a cashiered army lieutenant colonel who led a failed coup in 1992 then was elected president last December in a landslide. His victory ended 40 years of corrupt domination by Venezuela's traditional parties, and he promised a "peaceful revolution" to bring about change. The constituent assembly, elected in July and charged with drafting a new constitution, is a centerpiece of his efforts.
Chavez says his reforms have been misunderstood by foreign countries, including the United States, because opposition parties have misrepresented them as anti-democratic.
In announcing the tentative agreement tonight, Archbishop Baltazar Porras said representatives of both sides will now present the proposal to Congress's various political parties and the 131-delegate assembly. A final decision is expected by Thursday.
Officials said that should the accord be approved, a joint committee of assembly and congressional representatives would be named to specify what Congress can do when it reconvenes next month. Outstanding business includes telecommunications and industrial property legislation, as well as billions of dollars in budget decisions.
Tomoteo Zambrano, head of the Democratic Action party in Congress, said he expected the proposal to be implemented.
"It has been a lesson to the government that it has to move within a legal framework and respect the division of power," he said. "If they want a peaceful transition, they must do it by putting democratic principles into practice."