Nicolas Maduro Venezuela's President to review court power grab

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced early Saturday the country's Supreme Court would review controversial new rulings which had stripped the country's opposition-controlled legislature of power.

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A Venezuelan activist chants slogans against President Nicolas Maduro during an opposition rally in Caracas, on March 31, 2017 play

A Venezuelan activist chants slogans against President Nicolas Maduro during an opposition rally in Caracas, on March 31, 2017

(AFP)
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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced early Saturday the country's Supreme Court would review controversial new rulings which had stripped the country's opposition-controlled legislature of power.

Maduro made the announcement in a brief televised address just after midnight Saturday, hours ahead of planned mass anti-government protests and after his own attorney general broke ranks to condemn the court rulings.

"We have reached an important agreement to solve this controversy," Maduro said in a national TV and radio broadcast.

Maduro faced the strongest criticism ever from within his own camp when Attorney General Luisa Ortega condemned Wednesday's Supreme Court rulings that strengthened the socialist president's grip on the levers of power.

on Friday Ortega denounced the court decisions, which effectively dissolved the opposition-majority National Assembly and revoked lawmakers' immunity from prosecution.

The rulings, she said, are a "rupture of constitutional order."

Maduro's opponents have called on Venezuelans to take to the streets Saturday and urged the army to abandon him, branding moves to consolidate his power a coup d'etat.

Opposition defiant

Venezuelan opposition activists march along a street of Caracas on March 31, 2017 chanting slogans against the government of President Nicolas Maduro and deploying a banner that reads "My Future Is Venezuela" play

Venezuelan opposition activists march along a street of Caracas on March 31, 2017 chanting slogans against the government of President Nicolas Maduro and deploying a banner that reads "My Future Is Venezuela"

(AFP/File)

The opposition leader of the National Assembly, Julio Borges, refused to meet with Maduro on Friday.

The president "is responsible for the rupture in constitutional order," Borges said, and now cannot "pretend to be a mediator."

Borges earlier called on the military and other institutions to follow Ortega's example and speak up against Maduro.

"Now is the time to obey the orders of your conscience," he said.

Pressure against Maduro was also increasing abroad. At the Organization of American States in Washington, an emergency session was scheduled for Monday to discuss the Venezuelan crisis.

Thirteen OAS nations, including heavyweights Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, as well as the United States, want to declare the Venezuelan court rulings "incompatible with democracy and a violation of the constitutional order."

The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, has strongly criticised the Maduro government in the past.

Power struggle

A Venezuelan pro-government supporter scuffles with riot police in Caracas, on March 31, 2017 play

A Venezuelan pro-government supporter scuffles with riot police in Caracas, on March 31, 2017

(AFP)

South American regional bloc Mercosur -- which suspended Venezuela in December -- will hold crisis talks Saturday, Argentina announced.

The opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) won a landslide in legislative elections in December 2015.

But the court has overturned every law passed by the current legislature.

Venezuela has the world's biggest oil reserves, but the collapse in energy prices has sapped its revenues, prompting stark shortages of food, medicine and basic goods.

Maduro is not up for re-election until October 2018. But he has been forced to fend off opposition efforts to call a vote on removing him from power.

Outside a supermarket in Caracas on Friday, Venezuelans queueing to buy food rations vented their frustration over the news.

"If it's not a coup then it looks very like one," said mechanic Eduardo Rodriguez, a 58-year-old mechanic. "It looks very ugly to me."

Opposition groups called for more street protests Saturday.

"We have to come out and defend democracy," said Sara Ramirez, 68, a building porter, waiting in line.

But others were sick of the political conflict.

"I don't support either side," said Yandry Diaz, 18, who works in a shoe shop.

"What they want is to have us in the street, fighting and killing each other so that they can hold onto power."

Maduro has clung to power in a more than year-long standoff with his center-right opponents, yet uncertainty reined in the volatile nation hit by food shortages and violent crime, which has seen three attempted military coups since 1992.

Maduro said in a speech to cheering supporters late Friday: "In Venezuela, the constitution, civil, political and human rights and people power are in full force."

He vowed "through dialogue and the constitution, to resolve the impasse" between the attorney general and the court.

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