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Venezuela high court to take over National Assembly duties

Venezuela high court to take over National Assembly duties”

Maduro has accused opposition lawmakers of treason for asking the OAS to consider suspending Venezuela for violating democratic norms.

Domestic and global condemnation of court rulings that bolstered the power of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro grew Friday, with protesters facing off against security forces and the nation's top prosecutor assailing the court's move as a "rupture" of the democratic process.

The supreme court's contempt charge stems from vote-buying accusations against three lawmakers from the southern Amazonas state.

Ever since the main opposition coalition gained its majority in the assembly following elections in December 2015, the Supreme Court has overturned every law passed by the assembly.

"Venezuela's top court takes actions to preserve rule of law", was the AVN state news agency's portrayal of the move by the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, which declared the National Assembly to be in contempt of its rulings.

But in a statement released shortly after, Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, called on Venezuela to "permit the democratically-elected National Assembly to perform its constitutional functions, hold elections as soon as possible, and immediately release all political prisoners".

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The ruling ripped up by Congress head Julio Borges on Thursday was designed to allow President Nicolas Maduro to create oil ventures without congressional approval, easing investment in the cash-strapped country's floundering oil industry.

The move is the latest example of the socialist President Maduro tightening his grip on power, which critics say he has been doing for months, amid a deepening economic crisis in the country.

"If there was any doubt before, there should no longer be one: Venezuela is a dictatorship".

"It's untrue that a coup has taken place in Venezuela", the government said in a statement Thursday.

In a statement, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the USA considers the dissolution of Venezuela's National Assembly "a serious setback for democracy" in the country.

"This is a message to the companies that are signing those contracts: They are invalid and when a change of government comes these strategic associations are void because they were granted against the laws and the Constitution", he said.

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The Organization of American States would have warned in its reports of May 30, 2016 and March 14, 2017 of the serious democratic crisis that the Caribbean country was suffering. "The only Supreme Court I'm focused on right now is ours", Spicer said, referring to the fight in the US Senate to confirm a new Supreme Court justice.

National Assembly leader Julio Borges: "We have to call this what it is; this has no other name than a coup and dictatorship".

Amid so much intrigue, the normally ever-present Maduro was conspicuously silent and by late Friday had not commented on the ruling, nor had leaders of his ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela. He predicted the government would harden its position in the face of growing economic woes and global pressure, further dashing hopes for dialogue and an electoral solution.

The move will undoubtedly increase tensions given the opposition-controlled Congress was seen as a last bastion of dissent.

The OAS has already held two angry sessions on Venezuela earlier this week.

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