Maduro attacked from own camp over Venezuela power grab

2017-03-31 22:18
President Nicolas Maduro. (Ariana Cubillos, AP)

President Nicolas Maduro. (Ariana Cubillos, AP)

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Caracas - Venezuela's attorney general surprisingly broke ranks with President Nicolas Maduro on Friday, condemning recent Supreme Court rulings that consolidated the socialist president's power as a "rupture of constitutional order".

Attorney General Luisa Ortega is the first high-level official in Venezuela to criticise court rulings that effectively dissolved the opposition-majority legislature and revoked lawmakers' immunity from prosecution.

Long salvo of applause

The rulings "show evidence of various violations of the constitutional order and ignorance of the state model established in our constitution," Ortega said live on state television at an event to mark the release of her 2016 annual report.

It was a shocking departure from script for Venezuelan state TV, where the programming is strictly pro-government and Maduro often delivers long speeches or shows off his salsa dancing.

"It is my duty to inform my country of my deep concern over these events," said Ortega, drawing a long salvo of applause from the crowd.

Ortega was long seen as a loyalist of the socialist "revolution" launched by Maduro's mentor Hugo Chavez in 1999.

But with once-booming oil giant Venezuela now mired in food shortages, political chaos and an epidemic of violent crime, she fired some of the most severe public criticism yet from within the president's own camp.

She delivered her remarks while brandishing a copy of what she referred to as "Chavez's constitution," adopted the year the late leftist firebrand came to power.

Break democracy

Street protests erupted for a second day in Caracas on Friday. Students marched on the Supreme Court, where they scuffled with soldiers.

Protesters calling for early elections also blocked streets in the working-class Petare neighbourhood and opposition lawmakers clashed with Maduro supporters downtown.

Protesting lawmakers on Thursday scuffled with riot police outside the Supreme Court.

International condemnation continued pouring in, adding to the criticism already voiced by the United States, the European Union and a host of Latin American countries.

Colombia recalled its ambassador to Venezuela, while Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Twitter that "when you break the division of powers, you break democracy".

Street protests

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein warned Venezuela: "The separation of powers is essential for democracy to function."

The head of the Organisation of American States called for the regional group's permanent council to hold crisis talks on the situation.

South American regional bloc Mercosur - which suspended Venezuela in December - will also hold crisis talks on Saturday, Argentina announced.

Venezuela's centre-right opposition has meanwhile called for more street protests on Saturday.

The criticism came two days after the Supreme Court, which has staunchly backed Maduro through an economic and political crisis, assumed the powers of the National Assembly.

Read more on:    nicolas maduro  |  venezuela

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