Venezuela's top prosecutor rebukes Supreme Court power grab

"As long as the National Assembly's contempt of court and invalidity persist, parliamentary powers shall be exercised directly by (the Supreme Court's) constitutional chamber or by the body it designates to safeguard the rule of law", it said late Wednesday night.

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

The judges' move strips Maduro's opponents in the National Assembly legislature of what little sway they held over a key plank of government.

"This isn't any old sentence".

In a statement, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro denounced "the self-inflicted coup d'état perpetrated by the Venezuelan regime against the National Assembly, the last branch of government to be legitimized by the will of the people of Venezuela".

“Russians, Chinese and Venezuelans are interested in entering the business, ” Elias Matta, an opposition legislator and member of the National Assembly's oil committee, said in an interview , adding that state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA has oil blocks ready for development as it seeks to turn around declining production.

The stand-off between the Venezuelan branches of government has drawn increasing attention in the worldwide arena, and Wednesday's ruling comes just a day after an extraordinary session was held at the Organisation of American States (OAS) to address the issue of Venezuela's democracy.

The statement, signed by Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Paraguay, calls on Venezuela to restore the balance of power.

The oil-producing nation, which has been ravaged by an economic depression and food shortages for years, has been on tenterhooks since the Supreme Court ruling late Wednesday evening, further fueling claims by Maduro's opponents as well as foreign government's that Venezuela is moving toward dictatorship.

The court said it would assume all legislative functions amid its contention that legislators are operating outside of the law, in a move opposition leaders decried as a "coup". Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch, says that's just an excuse for Maduro to seize even more power.

"In her annual report, Ortega - an ally of President Nicolas Maduro - said: "[The measure] constitutes a rupture of the constitutional order. The legislature organized a recall vote against Maduro, as permitted by the Venezuelan constitution, and submitted a legal recall petition to the government in late 2016.

Some protesters also briefly blocked highways in the capital, holding banners reading: "No To Dictatorship". He predicted the government would harden its position in the face of growing economic woes and worldwide pressure, further dashing hopes for dialogue and an electoral solution.

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

"If the worldwide community stays firm, demanding elections, we are sure the government will have to turn back", another opposition leader Henrique Capriles said.

Borges said the government was “desperately” seeking cash, as the Supreme Court ruling also gave Maduro widespread powers to authorize oil joint ventures without congressional approval.

"We reject the Peruvian government's rude support for the violent and extremist sectors in Venezuela", Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said in a series of tweets.

  • Leroy Wright