Venezuela prose­cu­tor snubs court, de­fy­ing govt in cri­sis

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Venezuela’s chief prose­cu­tor re­fused to ap­pear in court Tues­day in a case she says was trumped up by the au­thor­i­ties af­ter she de­fied them over the coun­try’s deadly po­lit­i­cal cri­sis. Luisa Ortega faced im­mi­nent sus­pen­sion af­ter her move cranked up the ten­sion in a stand­off with Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro, who is re­sist­ing fierce op­po­si­tion calls to quit.

Ortega, 59, is the most se­nior fig­ure to defy Maduro as he fends off ef­forts to re­move him from power in the volatile oil-ex­port­ing na­tion. “I am not go­ing con­done a cir­cus that will stain our his­tory with shame and pain and whose de­ci­sion is fore­told,” Ortega told a news con­fer­ence at the public pros­e­cu­tion de­part­ment. “I have com­mit­ted no crime nor er­rors and I am not go­ing to sub­mit to this un­con­sti­tu­tional and il­le­git­i­mate court,” she added. “We al­ready know that to­day I will be re­moved from my post.”

Ortega’s stand has raised the prospect of a split in the gov­ern­ment camp that could tip the bal­ance in a deadly power strug­gle. Three months of un­rest have left 91 peo­ple dead, pros­e­cu­tors say. The lat­est fa­tal­ity was that of a 25-year-old man killed Tues­day dur­ing a street protest in the western city of Tariba, pros­e­cu­tors said. Anti-gov­ern­ment pro­test­ers blocked streets in Caracas and else­where. Op­po­si­tion lead­ers said that in Caracas, armed pro-gov­ern­ment groups beat and shot at demon­stra­tors. Pro­test­ers blame Maduro, a so­cial­ist, for a des­per­ate eco­nomic cri­sis. He says the chaos is the re­sult of a US-backed con­spir­acy.

Ortega launched a le­gal chal­lenge against the gov­ern­ment on hu­man rights grounds, and a case against Supreme Court judges. She ac­cuses Maduro of vi­o­lat­ing the con­sti­tu­tion through his re­form plans. Pro-gov­ern­ment law­maker Pe­dro Car­reno re­sponded by fil­ing charges against Ortega, al­leg­ing “se­ri­ous er­rors in the car­ry­ing out of her func­tions.” He also al­leged she was suf­fer­ing from “in­san­ity” and should be fired. Last week, the Supreme Court or­dered Ortega’s as­sets to be frozen and banned her from leav­ing the coun­try.

The court held its hear­ing Tues­day in her ab­sence and said af­ter­ward it would de­cide within five days whether to send her to trial and sus­pend her from of­fice. “She sold her soul to the devil,” Car­reno said in the hear­ing. “She had her price and be­came a traitor just like Ju­das.” The court ear­lier named a new deputy chief prose­cu­tor to re­place Ortega if she is fired: gov­ern­ment ally Kather­ine Har­ring­ton. Har­ring­ton was tar­geted by US sanc­tions in 2015 for al­leged hu­man rights breaches in jail­ing op­po­si­tion lead­ers.— AFP

Luisa Ortega Diaz

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