Venezuela's new assembly holds first session amid criticism for tainted elections

Posted August 06, 2017

Venezuela on Friday inaugurated a new legislative superbody that is expected to rewrite the constitution and give vast new powers to the ruling Socialist Party, defying worldwide condemnation that the new assembly undermines democratic freedoms.

Former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, a hard-line Maduro loyalist, was named president of the new assembly.

"We tell them that if they do not take the path of political action, justice will be imposed and this Constituent Assembly arrived to do justice", she added.

"Do not think we're going to wait weeks, months or years", Rodriguez said during her first speech Friday. "Tomorrow we start to act".

Brazil on Friday recommended that Venezuela be suspended from trade bloc Mercosur until it returns to democracy.

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Venezuela's contested new assembly fired the country's dissident attorney general, Luisa Ortega, on Saturday and ordered her to go on trial in a move sure to further inflame global criticism of the leftist government.

The Vatican called for a "negotiated solution" that would provide humanitarian aid, fair elections and the release of political prisoners, and it appealed for an end to the violence that has plagued the country.

"The United States will not recognise the National Constituent Assembly", spokeswoman Heath Nauert said. It could re-write the constitution, re-arrange state institutions and allow socialist President Nicolas Maduro to rule by decree.

And yet even amidst the economic privation and rampant malnutrition, there lives a spirit that has forced ordinary citizens to take to the streets in protest.

The constitutional assembly elections were held in Venezuela on July 30th, under Maduro's decree, to retool Venezuela's 1999 constitution.

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Maduro was due to install the new assembly of his allies on Friday, dismissing an worldwide outcry and opposition protests saying he is burying democracy in his country.

The constituent assembly replaced Ortega with human rights ombudsman Tarek Saab, a government ally whom the opposition says has turned a blind eye to state abuses.

A prominent opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, was thrown back in military prison after the intelligence service roughly ended a brief spell of house arrest granted last month.

In her first speech as leader of the assembly, Rodriguez said delegates would "establish justice", underlying that the Constituent Assembly would not hand the country's fate to a "violent minority" or to the global community.

After being hit with US sanctions and called a dictator by US President Donald Trump, Maduro said defiantly that he was standing up to what he called imperialism. Smartmatic Chief Executive Officer Antonio Mugica said Wednesday in London that results recorded by his company's systems and those reported by the National Electoral Council show the official turnout count of 8 million was off by at least 1 million votes.

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While Ortega's sacking was contentious for them, she did not enjoy wide public support because of her previous loyalty to the government. Ledezma was later returned to house arrest after spending three days in jail.