Venezuelan assembly votes out critic of president

Guards with riot shields stand outside chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega's office. Picture: AP
Guards with riot shields stand outside chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega's office. Picture: AP
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Venezuela’s newly installed constitutional assembly has voted unanimously to remove chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega and replace her with a government loyalist.

As the vote was taking place last night, pro-government delegates shouted “traitor” and “justice has arrived”.

Ortega will be replaced by Tarek William Saab, a staunch government supporter who currently serves as the nation’s ombudsman. The move came as security forces surrounded the entrance to Venezuela’s chief prosecutor’s office yesterday ahead of the session.

Ortega denounced what she called a military “siege” on Twitter, publishing photos apparently taken from security cameras showing some 30 national guardsmen in riot gear standing outside her headquarters in Caracas. Access to the town-centre block where the building is located was completely restricted amid a heavy troop deployment.

The move came as members of the all-powerful constitutional assembly pledged to move quickly against opponents of president Nicolas Maduro (pictured above).

“Don’t think we’re going to wait weeks, months or years,” former foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez said on Friday after she was voted for unanimously by all 545 delegates to lead the assembly. “Tomorrow we start to act. The violent fascists, those who wage economic war on the people, those who wage psychological war, justice is coming for you.”

The constitutional assembly was seated despite strong criticism from the United States, other countries and the Venezuelan opposition, who fear the assembly will be a tool for imposing dictatorship. Supporters say it will pacify a country rocked by violent protests.

Its installation is likely to intensify a political crisis that has brought four months of protests in which at least 120 people have died and hundreds more have been jailed.

Maduro vows the assembly will strip opposition lawmakers of their constitutional immunity from prosecution, while members of congress say they will only be removed by force.

However, the opposition is struggling to regain its footing in the face of the government’s strong-arm tactics and the re-emergence of old internal divisions. Several opposition activists have been jailed in recent days, others are rumoured to be seeking exile and one leader has broken ranks from the opposition alliance to say his party will field candidates in regional elections despite widespread mistrust of Venezuela’s electoral system.

In a sign of its demoralised state, only a few hundred demonstrators showed up for a Friday protest against the constitutional assembly, one of the smallest turnouts in months. Those who did turn out said fear of arrest may be keeping people at home but urged Venezuelans to remain mobilised.