Venezuela leader says open to talk with opposition on crisis


Venezuela leader says open to talk with opposition on crisis

Security forces violently repressed protests that broke out in Venezuela's capital on Friday after the supreme court gutted the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its last vestiges of power, drawing widespread condemnation from foreign countries and even triggering a rebuke from the nation's normally pro-government chief prosecutor.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has expressed grave concern at the ruling by the Venezuelan Supreme Court to take over the legislative powers of the National Assembly.

In Caracas, national guardsmen in riot gear fired buckshot and swung batons at a small group of students who gathered outside the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, the country's top court.

A woman wears a banner over her mouth with a message that reads in Spanish: "Venezuela lives in a dictatorship" during a protest, in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, March 31, 2017.

There has been widespread worldwide condemnation, with the Organisation of American States (OAS) calling it the "final blow to democracy" in Venezuela.

Venezuela's powerful attorney general has rebuked the judiciary's takeover of congress, breaking ranks with President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government as protests and global condemnation grew.

Regional powers Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Chile and others also warned it was a threat to democracy in Venezuela.

"This is a dictatorship, and this was a coup", Julio Borges, speaker of the National Assembly, said at a press conference.

"In Venezuela the only dialogue possible is the vote", Mr Borges said.

The decision came a day after the nation's top prosecutor, a Maduro ally, labeled the Supreme Court's March 29 move unconstitutional. Court president Maikel Moreno was due to make an address during the morning and some local media said the tribunal had already eliminated the decision.

In the U.S., the Trump administration also strongly criticized the Supreme Court's move and called on Maduro to free political prisoners. They are furious that authorities thwarted a push for a referendum to recall Mr Maduro previous year and also postponed local elections scheduled for 2016.

Maduro was conspicuously silent during much of the two days of turmoil.

Pushback to the controversial decision was expected from the opposition and discontented citizens, some of whom took to the streets of Caracas on Friday.

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

Maduro's opponents at home and overseas will seek to maintain the pressure.

Venezuelan authorities called on the country's Supreme Court to review its decision this week to annul the opposition-led congress, which critics have decried as a "coup" and a lurch to dictatorship.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega is the first high-level official in Venezuela to criticize court rulings this week that effectively dissolved the opposition-majority legislature and revoked lawmakers' immunity from prosecution. He reiterated the call for Venezuelans to take to the streets today in protest.

Protesters calling for early elections also blocked streets in the working-class Petare neighborhood, and opposition lawmakers clashed with Maduro supporters downtown.

Many observers have said the Supreme Court's move amounts to a coup. The new legal framework could allow Maduro to raise funds by giving him the authority to form new ventures - potentially with allies including China and Russian Federation - that typically involve signing bonuses paid to the government.

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