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December 14, 2017
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Venezuelan in new legal stand-off

Outspoken attorney general, staunch figure of ruling party, goes after judges on pro-government Supreme Court

CARACAS — Venezuela’s attorney general this week raised the stakes in her stand-off with the government by demanding eight Supreme Court justices loyal to President Nicolás Maduro be put on trial.

A staunch figure of the ruling party, Attorney General Luisa Ortega, 59, is the highest public official to break ranks with Maduro over the country’s deadly political crisis. She has accused him and his allies of acting unconstitutionally in their stand-off against the opposition in recent months of anti-government protests.

In her latest manoeuvre to pressure the socialist president, she told reporters she’d filed a case accusing the eight justices of allowing “a breakdown in constitutional order.” The charge refers to a ruling by the court in late March that seized power from the opposition-controlled National Assembly legislature. The court later revoked the decision under international pressure, but it sparked a series of protests that has continued ever since. Clashes between demonstrators and police have left 67 people dead, according to prosecutors.

Ortega claimed in a radio interview on Monday that intelligence officials had been threatening and harassing her family. “They are being pursued by patrols that appear to be from SEBIN,” she added, in a reference to the state intelligence service.

Pro-government lawmaker Pedro Carreno filed a motion in the assembly calling for the court to order that Ortega be examined by a psychologist.“It is clear that this lady is not in her right mind,” he told reporters. He called for experts to declare she was suffering from “insanity” and should be fired.

Former Supreme Court justice Blanca Rosa Marmol told AFP the assembly was the only body legally entitled to remove an attorney general from her post.

Analysts say Ortega’s legal challenges to the government could widen divisions in Maduro’s camp, making it harder for him to stay in power. Last week, she filed a challenge against his effort to rewrite the Constitution, branding it undemocratic.

The court dismissed the appeal on Monday, saying it was dismissing the appeal since it was presented in an “incompetent” way, grouping together separate complaints against various different state bodies. but Ortega promptly responded with a new series of legal challenges against the judges.

Maduro is accused of controlling the Supreme Court, which has fended off numerous legal and legislative moves against him over the past year and a half. Protestors blame him for an economic crisis that has caused desperate shortages of food and medicine in the oil-rich country. Maduro says the crisis is a US-backed conspiracy.

He retains the public backing of the military. However, its commander Vladimir Padrino López sounded a moderate note last week when he warned security forces against attacking protesters.

On Wednesday, retired general Alexis López said he had resigned from a top defence advisory body over the government’s contested constitutional reforms.

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