Thursday 14 November 2019

Venezuelan president urges court to review ruling on congress powers

Venezuelan officers are confronted by university students during a protest outside the Supreme Court in Caracas (AP)
Venezuelan officers are confronted by university students during a protest outside the Supreme Court in Caracas (AP)

President Nicolas Maduro has urged Venezuela's Supreme Court to review a decision stripping congress of its last powers, a ruling that set off a storm of criticism from the opposition and foreign governments.

The announcement came hours before the opposition hoped to mount major protests against the socialist government, spurred by anger over the ruling.

In an address after a meeting presided over by Mr Maduro, the National Security Council announced it was supporting a review by the court "with the goal of maintaining institutional stability".

"April is starting on a good step," Mr Maduro said jubilantly, surrounded by a dozen officials after the emergency meeting. "Constitutional victory!"

Opposition leaders were quick to condemn the announcement as a ploy that did little to alleviate the crisis.

"Let's be absolutely clear," said Freddy Guevara, first vice president of the National Assembly. "A revision of a decision that leaves everything like before doesn't resolve a coup."

The three-hour meeting capped an extraordinary day in which Venezuela's chief prosecutor and long-term loyalist of the socialist government broke ranks and denounced the court ruling.

Luisa Ortega Diaz said it was her "unavoidable historical duty" as the nation's senior judicial authority to condemn the ruling against the opposition-controlled National Assembly as a "rupture" of the constitutional order.

"We call for reflection so that the democratic path can be retaken," she said to the loud applause of aides around her.

Mr Maduro convened the National Security Council seeking to calm the political uproar, although at least one key member refused to attend. About a dozen officials were present at the session, but among those notably absent was congress president Julio Borges, who said the meeting was a circus act created for a convenient photo opportunity by the person the opposition blames for the country's troubles.

"In Venezuela the only dialogue possible is the vote," Mr Borges said.

Mr Maduro, dressed in black and waving a small blue book containing the Venezuelan constitution early in the televised meeting, likened the international condemnation of this week's Supreme Court decision to a "political lynching".

On Friday, troops from the National Guard fired buckshot and swung batons at students protesting in front of the Supreme Court in Caracas. A few people were arrested and some journalists covering the demonstration had their cameras taken. A few small protests popped up elsewhere in the capital.

Larger demonstrations are expected on Saturday in what opposition leaders hope will be a big turnout to denounce Mr Maduro and call for elections.

"We all have to get out - for the dignity of our country, the dignity of our children and the dignity of Venezuela," Mr Borges said.

The Supreme Court ruled late on Wednesday that until legislators abide by previous rulings that nullified all legislation passed by congress, the high court could assume the constitutionally assigned powers of the National Assembly, which has been controlled by the opposition since it won a landslide victory in elections in late 2015.

Friday brought a second day of condemnations of the ruling by the US and governments across Latin America.

The head of the Organisation of American States likened the decision to a "self-inflicted coup" by the leftist Mr Maduro, and the top UN human rights official urged the high court to reverse its decision.


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