Prosecutor urges Venezuelans to reject constitution rewrite

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Prosecutor urges Venezuelans to reject constitution rewrite
Prosecutor urges Venezuelans to reject constitution rewrite

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – Venezuela’s chief prosecutor called Thursday for Venezuelans to reject President Nicolas Maduro’s push to rewrite the nation’s constitution and urged the Supreme Court to annul the process immediately, further deepening her divide with the government.

Grasping a copy of the nation’s blue constitution book in her hands on the steps of the Supreme Court, Luisa Ortega Diaz said she was acting to defend both the embattled nation’s constitution and its very democracy.

“What’s at play here is the country,” she said. “The integrity of Venezuelans.”

Ortega Diaz’s remarks were her strongest repudiation yet of Maduro’s effort to convoke a national assembly that would rewrite the nation’s constitution, an act she said would destroy the legacy of the late President Hugo Chavez, who oversaw adoption of the current constitution.

A long-time government loyalist, Ortega Diaz first broke publicly with the Maduro administration in late March when she decried a supreme court decision nullifying congress. Since then, the gulf between Ortega Diaz and the government has only grown. In both writing and statements to the press, she has repeatedly questioned the legal validity of convoking a constitutional assembly without a referendum.

Maduro ordered the National Electoral Council to convene the assembly, stating it was his constitutional right, a position the opposition rejects. He also submitted the terms outlining how the constituent members would be elected. The government-stacked council quickly approved both requests and is moving forward to hold the elections in late July.

Ortega Diaz is requesting that the Supreme Court’s electoral chamber declare invalid the National Electoral Council’s decisions approving the constitutional assembly. In doing so, she is sidestepping the court’s constitutional branch, whose magistrates were responsible for the March decision to strip the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its last powers.

That decision was later reversed amid a storm of international outcry and Ortega Diaz’s own rebuke. But it instigated the current wave of protests that has left nearly 70 people dead and continues to rock the country. Demonstrators are frustrated with the nation’s vast food and medical supply shortages, triple-digit inflation and rising crime.

The Trump administration slapped sanctions in May on the Supreme Court’s president as well as seven justices from the constitutional branch who issued the controversial decision. The court’s constitutional chamber has declared null and void eight National Assembly laws between January and October 2016, after just one such ruling in the previous 200 years, legal experts say.

Ortega Diaz is accusing the National Electoral Council of breaking key democratic principles such as universal suffrage in approving Maduro’s request to convene the constitutional assembly. Maduro’s terms call for allotting a specific number of votes to specific population sectors such as the disabled, fishermen and retirees, as well as one per municipality. Analysts say those terms will heavily favor the government.

“The appeal I am attempting is to defend the rule of the people,” she said.

The nation’s chief prosecutor also decried Maduro and his top administration officials for employing what she termed “violent calls” to participate in the constitutional assembly. Maduro has frequently referred to opposition members refusing to participate in the assembly as fascist terrorists. Crowds at pro-government events frequently call for them to be jailed.

“We can’t live in a country like this,” Diaz Ortega said.

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Christine Armario reported from Bogota, Colombia.

FILe – In this May 24, 2017 file photo, Venezuela’s Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz speaks to the press at her office in Caracas, Venezuela. Ortega Diaz said Thursday, June 8, that she has asked the country’s supreme court to annul the government’s effort to rewrite the constitution. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File)
A demonstrator wearing a balaclava, a helmet and a rosary looks on during clashes between security forces and anti-government demonstrators in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, June 7, 2017. Nearly 70 people have died in the political unrest, which has seen hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans take to the streets demanding new elections. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
A demonstrator takes cover behind a home made shield decorated with an image of Jesus during clashes with security forces in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, June 7, 2017. Venezuela’s defense minister is urging the country’s national guardsmen to refrain from using excessive force as they confront protesters after more than two months of anti-government demonstrations. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Residents not involved in the protests cover their faces to protect themselves from tear gas, as they cross the street during clashes between security forces and anti-government demonstrators in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, June 7, 2017. The protest movement has claimed more than 60 lives as it enters its third month. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
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