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Venezuela opposition appoints three exiled lawmakers to leadership

By Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas

CARACAS (Reuters) -Venezuela's opposition national assembly on Thursday appointed three exiled lawmakers to direct it and create a commission to control foreign assets, including oil refiner Citgo Petroleum.

The assembly voted last week to remove Juan Guaido, the public face of the fractious opposition since 2019, as its interim president. The United States and other governments had backed Guaido after deeming the 2018 re-election of President Nicolas Maduro as fraudulent.

Legislators who backed ending the interim government say their control of foreign assets is not at risk - despite warnings from Guaido and others - and the dissolution was necessary for unity ahead of presidential elections tentatively scheduled for 2024.

The new leadership triumvirate is assembly president Dinorah Figuera and vice-presidents Marianela Fernandez and Auristela Vasquez - from opposition parties Justice First, A New Era and Democratic Action respectively.

All three have lived abroad since the start of Guaido's interim government because of what the opposition says is government harassment.

"I am convinced that this assembly, along with all the political parties ... will raise the flags of unity," Figuera, a 61-year-old doctor, said during the virtual session.

The new leadership will designate a five-member commission to manage foreign assets like Citgo, a subsidiary of state-owned oil company PDVSA.

Because of its backing abroad, the opposition is able to control assets in other countries, like $1 billion in gold stored at the Bank of England.

It hopes Washington will extend a license this month protecting Citgo from possible creditor seizures.

Venezuela owes more than $60 billion to creditors.

Citgo, which was on track for a $2.5 billion profit in 2022, could face supervisory board shakeups and other changes under the new commission.

Citgo did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The U.S. government has not publicly revealed its position on the assets protection, but said after Guaido's removal that it will continue to support the assembly, originally elected in 2015. The interim government's former embassy in Washington has ceased operations until new officials are appointed, two sources said.

Lawmakers in the government-backed parliament also on Thursday re-elected Jorge Rodriguez as their body's president for another year.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas; Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga in Houston; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Josie Kao and Mark Porter)