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Venezuelan congress votes for Maduro trial

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Opposition-led National Assembly opts for move, but Socialists dismiss move as meaningless
CARACAS — Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly voted yesterday to open a political trial against President Nicolás Maduro for violating democracy, but the socialist government dismissed the move as meaningless.
The OPEC member nation’s political standoff has worsened since last week’s suspension of an opposition push to hold a referendum to try to recall Maduro, 53.
With that avenue closed, the opposition coalition has raised the stakes, using its power base in congress to begin controversial legal action against Hugo Chávez’s unpopular successor.
Unlike neighbouring Brazil, where Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from the presidency in August, a trial against Maduro would be largely symbolic given the government and Supreme Court have declared congress illegitimate.
“Legally, the National Assembly does not exist,” said Vice-President Aristóbulo Istúriz, referring to Supreme Court rulings that measures in congress are null and void until it removes three lawmakers linked to vote-buying claims.
The opposition has accused Maduro of veering into dictatorship by sidelining the Legislature, detaining opponents and leaning on compliant judicial and electoral authorities to block a plebiscite on his rule.
“We will show clearly to Venezuela and the world that in this crisis, responsibility for breaking the constitution has clearly been Nicolás Maduro’s,” said majority leader Julio Borges.
The National Assembly ordered Maduro to appear at a session next Tuesday — which he will almost certainly refuse to attend — and said it would also consider charges of abandoning his duties.
Foes accuse Maduro of wrecking the country’s economy, where food shortages and soaring prices have left many skipping meals and spending hours in long lines.
Polls showed the majority of Venezuelans wanted a referendum on Maduro which he would have likely lost, triggering a presidential election had it taken place this year.
But the election board nixed the process, citing court orders after government allegations of fraud in an initial signature drive.
“In Venezuela we are battling Satan!” said another opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, ratifying plans for nationwide rallies today that the opposition have dubbed “The Takeover of Venezuela.”
Noting recent shifts to the right in other Latin American countries, Venezuela’s government has said it is the victim of an international conspiracy against socialism led by the United States and fanned by servile foreign media.
It blames a two-year slump in global oil prices and a US-fostered “economic war” for Venezuelans’ suffering. It has also accused political foes of seeking a violent coup against Maduro, a former bus driver and union activist who became Chávez’s long-serving foreign minister then vice-president.
Maduro came back to Venezuela later on Tuesday after a tour of oil-producing nations and meetings with the Pope and UN Secretary General-designate Antonio Guterres.
“In the world, they admire our battle for truth, dignity and independence,” he said at an airport ceremony, before heading for a rally where he blasted the National Assembly and accused Washington of meddling as red-shirted loyalists chanted “dissolve the National Assembly.”
“The National Assembly has been transformed into a bastion of evil and bitterness, it is useless to the interests of our country and our people,” he told thousands of mostly state workers. “It has a single goal: to damage Venezuela.”
“Before leaving office, (US President Barack) Obama wants to damage Venezuela … he is obsessed with destroying Venezuela by whatever means,” Maduro told the rally.
Both sides have announced a tentative dialogue for this weekend, in the presence of international mediators.
Maduro said he would attend Sunday’s talks, but various opposition figures have already said they doubt Maduro’s sincerity and fear the initiative may be a tactic to gain time.
With Venezuela’s military a key factor in past power-shifts, Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino criticized the National Assembly, vowed the Armed Forces’ loyalty to Maduro, and accused foes of seeking foreign intervention.
Maduro has called a meeting of a special Council for the Defence of the Nation, to which he invited opposition legislative head Henry Ramos, for this morning at the Miraflores presidential palace.
Herald with AP, Reuters

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