Sao Paulo- Venezuela’s new legislative pro-government assembly removed the country’s chief prosecutor and ordered her to stand trial in its first session on Saturday.
South American trade bloc Mercosur indefinitely suspended Venezuela, adding to international pressure on President Nicolas Maduro to dismantle the newly created assembly and restore democracy. The assembly passed a resolution “emphatically rejecting” Mercosur’s action.
The prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, had become Maduro’s main challenger from within the ruling socialist movement since the start of opposition street protests in April, which have left more than 120 people dead as rock-throwing protesters were met by state security forces firing rubber bullets and water cannon.
Ortega accused Maduro of human rights abuses and of fudging the results of last weekend’s election of the new 545-member constituent assembly. The opposition, in control of the country’s traditional congress, boycotted the vote, meaning that all candidates for the new body were Maduro allies.
His loyalist Supreme Court sent a letter to the assembly announcing its indictment of Ortega, accusing her of “alleged commission of serious misconduct”, without providing details.
Ortega’s office was blocked by armed National Guardsmen. She said she was roughed up as she tried to enter the building, claiming that one guardsman hit her with his body shield. Ortega ended up fleeing the chaos on a motor bike.
By sunset the scene had calmed but the National Guard kept access to the street in front of the building blocked. A half block away a colorful street mural was painted on a wall saying “The Constituent Assembly Will Go Forward.”
“The firing of Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega is the first dictatorial act of an illegitimate constituent assembly. We reiterate our solidarity with the Venezuelan people,” Juan Manuel Santos, president of neighboring Colombia, said on Twitter.
Chile’s leader Michelle Bachelet called Ortega’s firing another step in Venezuela’s “democratic breakdown”. Washington singled out Maduro for financial sanctions last week and Pope Francis urged him not to inaugurate the divisive new body.