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Venezuela Ex-Top Prosecutor in Colombia as Constituent Assembly Defies International outcry | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Venezuela’s former Attorney General Luisa Ortega speaks during a press conference in July. (AFP)

Venezuela’s former top prosecutor Luisa Ortega arrived in Colombia on Friday after she was fired by the new controversial Constituent Assembly that has continued to defy international condemnation in its attempts to clamp down on dissent in the South American country.

Ortega broke with socialist President Nicolas Maduro in late March and became a vocal critic of his unpopular government, eventually going into hiding after the newly elected assembly fired her earlier this month.

The assembly fired Ortega during its first session on August 5, but she and some governments in the region have refused to accept the body’s decisions.

“This afternoon the attorney general of Venezuela Luisa Ortega Diaz arrived from Aruba in a private plane to Bogota’s airport and completed the corresponding migration process,” Colombia’s migration agency said in a statement.

She was accompanied by her husband, the legislator German Ferrer, the statement added. It was not clear whether the couple were seeking asylum in Colombia.

The 59-year-old told Reuters in an interview this month that she feared the government would “deprive me of my life.”

Her replacement, ex-human rights ombudsman Tarek Saab, this week outlined corruption accusations against Ortega and her husband.

The couple are accused of running an “extortion gang” and funneling profits into an account in the Bahamas.

More than 120 people have been killed during often violent unrest against Maduro’s government over a crippling economic crisis and what opponents call his increasingly authoritarian rule.

Colombia is among the Latin American countries which have roundly criticized Maduro, while also condemning a suggestion by US President Donald Trump that a military intervention was an option to solve the crisis.

On Saturday, Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress rejected the self-proclaimed lawmaking authority of the Constituent Assembly, widening the political divide in the crisis-hit country.

Congress’s declaration of resistance followed statements from a group of 12 regional nations plus the United States on Friday, saying they would continue to regard congress, not the new assembly, as the Venezuela’s only legitimate lawmaking body.

“This is a congress in resistance of an armed military dictatorship that took over its authority and gained militarily what it could not gain at the ballot box,” congress Vice President Freddy Guevara said in a special session.

Venezuela’s ongoing political standoff took another dramatic turn Friday after the constitutional assembly approved a decree taking over congress’ powers to pass legislation of vital importance to the crisis-wracked nation.

Lawmakers and several foreign governments decried the move as an attempt to dissolve congress, although Maduro’s supporters insist lawmakers can continue to meet and have appealed for an agreement so the two bodies can coexist.

Guevara compared the offer to that of a kidnapper allowing his captives to use the bathroom and said lawmakers would only be removed by force.

“They will have to kick us out with bullets,” said Guevara, who tore up a copy of the edict while presiding over the special session. “But we will continue to defend this space the Venezuelan people gave us as long as we have the will and the means to do so.”

Government opponents had warned that the all-powerful constitutional assembly would move to squash dissent following an election for its members last month that was boycotted by the opposition and criticized by many foreign governments as an illegitimate power grab.

In recent days Venezuelans have watched as a steady parade of top officials, including Maduro, kneeled before the assembly charged with rewriting the 1999 constitution and recognized it as the country’s supreme authority.

But when leaders of congress were summoned to do the same on Friday they refused, saying they consider it a betrayal of the 14 million voters who took part in 2015 parliamentary elections that gave Maduro’s critics their first toehold on power in almost two decades of socialist rule.

Guevara accused the government of being desperate to circumvent congress so it can raise badly needed cash by selling off what’s left of Venezuela’s vast oil and mineral wealth to allies like Russia and China.