Venezuela court says it can take over Congress' powers


01 April, 2017

GENEVA The top United Nations human rights official called on Venezuela's Supreme Court on Friday to reconsider its decision to take over legislative powers and urged President Nicolas Maduro's government to uphold rights to peaceful assembly. It is the latest stage in an ongoing power struggle between opposition and president.

"This rupture of democratic and constitutional norms greatly damages Venezuela's democratic institutions and denies the Venezuelan people the right to shape their country's future through their elected representatives", State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement. The court alleges that there is contempt because three former lawmakers were accused of buying votes, and parliamentary leaders did not properly handle the case. Even though these legislators no longer sit, the court said parliamentary leaders had not handled their case properly. An effort to hold a recall vote on Maduro was suspended a year ago.

The US also condemned what it described as a move to "usurp the powers" of the national assembly.

Almagro called Thursday for an emergency meeting of the OAS's 34 member states, in what could be a first step toward Venezuela's expulsion.

Germany has accused Venezuela's president of holding the country's population as "hostages" in his battle with parliament.

The nation's highest court, the Supreme Court, stripped Congress of its powers, with members of the National Assembly clashing with national guardsmen outside the Court. Since then they have been systematically blocked by Venezuela's supreme court, which Maduro has stacked with loyalists. "It's one thing to try to build a dictatorship and another to complete the circuit".

Back in Venezuela, the Supreme Court, at this point little more than an extension of the presidency, was ruling that a statement approved days earlier by the opposition majority in the National Assembly, supporting the OAS debate, constituted "actions that run counter to [Venezuela's] independence and national sovereignty".

The opposition is threatening a new round of protests this weekend.

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The legal dispute stems from accusations of fraud in the 2015 congressional elections, where the opposition won a landslide victory amid a wave of anger over widespread food shortages and skyrocketing inflation.

Maduro's term in office ends in January 2019.

In Caracas, national guardsmen in riot gear fired buckshot and swung batons at a small group of students who gathered outside the Supreme Court. They held flags and banners saying, "No to dictatorship". Regional governments, as well as the Trump administration, seem far more engaged in seeking a solution to the political and increasingly humanitarian crisis that threatens to spill beyond the country's borders.

"We have to call this what it is; this has no other name than a coup and a dictatorship", added the opposition leader.

"It is false that there has been a coup d'etat in Venezuela".

Venezuela has the world's largest oil reserves and has sought to sell stakes to raise cash for bond payments and imports as oil prices remain low.

State oil company PDVSA recently offered Russia's Rosneft a stake in the Petrolia oil joint venture, sources said.

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