Venezuela chief prosecutor denounces ‘siege’ after troops surround her office

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Luisa Ortega, a fierce critic of president Nicols Maduro, tweeted photos of security forces outside before a vote replaced her with a government loyalist

Political turmoil gripping Venezuela deepened on Saturday as chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, previously a loyalist but now a fierce critic of president Nicols Maduro, was forcibly removed from office.

In a dramatic move ahead of a meeting of the new constitutional assembly, which has been given the power to re-write laws after an election last week that was boycotted by opposition supporters, government troops surrounded Ortegas office.

Ortega labelled the move a siege, tweeting photos of dozens of troops outside her office. I denounce this arbitrary act before the national and international community, one tweet read.

The assembly then voted unanimously to remove Ortega and replace her with a government loyalist. As the vote was taking place, 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 nations ombudsman.


Why is there unrest in Venezuela?

At the heart of the crisis isa cratering economyandacute shortages of medicineand food, coupled with rising anger at a soaring crime rate and an increasingly authoritarian government

The president, Nicols Maduro,won a general election in 2013on a platform of continuing his predecessor Hugo Chvez’s socialist policies of using the country’soil riches to reduce inequality and lift people out of poverty, but falling oil prices have forced the government to curtail social programmes

Opposition activists have been staging unrelenting protests against the government.

The move against Ortega followed threats from Maduro supporters in government. On Friday, after being confirmed unanimously as leader of the national assembly, former foreign minister Delcy Rodrguez said: The violent fascists, those who wage economic war on the people, those who wage psychological war, justice is coming for you.

On Saturday, the South American trade bloc Mercosur suspended Venezuela indefinitely, adding to international pressure on Maduro.

The head of the Organization of American States (OAS), meanwhile, condemned a flagrant violation of the prosecutors institutional independence. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, an autonomous arm of the OAS, granted precautionary measures of protection for Ortega, saying she faced imminent risk of harm after senior officials linked her to alleged terrorism.

Several opposition activists have been jailed in Venezuela and others are rumored to be seeking exile. One leader has said his party will field candidates in regional elections despite widespread mistrust of the electoral system.

The country is plagued by hyperinflation (predicted to reach 1,600% by the end of the year), plunging supplies of food and medicine and spiraling rates of murder and malnutrition. At least 121 people have been killed since anti-government protests began in April.

Maduro has said the new assembly will give voice to those excluded by the political process. His opponents describe a point of no return towards dictatorship.

There is no humanitarian crisis here, said Rodrguez on Friday. What we have is love, what we have is a crisis of the rightwing fascists.

Maduro has reiterated his support for the armed forces, who have been condemned by human rights watchdogs for brutally repressing protests. I feel deeply the wounds of each one of you, he said before a group of injured national guard troops. With your bodies as your shield, you have defended the right to peace.

A number of foreign governments have refused to recognise the national assembly, with the US levying sanctions. On Friday, the Vatican called for Maduro to suspend the assembly.

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