Venezuela assembly takes new powers

Venezuelan military receives President's order to prepare for US invasion

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro addresses the constituent assembly earlier this month.

This time, the constituent Assembly announced that it was " assume the power to legislate on subjects directly aimed to ensure the preservation of the peace, the security, the sovereignty, the socio-economic system and financial, of the property of the State and the primacy of the rights of Venezuelans ".

The dramatic move follows a refusal by the congressional leadership to swear an oath of loyalty to the assembly, whose election the opposition considers illegitimate.

Chaviste historical, Luisa Ortega had criticized the plan, citing a " breakdown of the constitutional order ".

Ortega and Ferrer have always been aligned with Venezuela's ruling socialist party but recently broke with Maduro, publicly denouncing his push to convene a constitutional assembly that was installed in early August and is now going about the task of upending Venezuela's institutions.

Delcy Rodriguez, a Maduro ally and president of the constituent assembly, insisted the move did not imply a dissolution of the congress. "The world and Venezuelans have said it very clear".

Venezuela's recently formed Constituent Assembly granted itself the power to write and pass legislation.

Over 120 people have died in four months of protests against the president's handling of an economy beset by triple-digit inflation and acute food shortages.

They, and members of Ortega's former staff of prosecutors, are accused of running an "extortion gang" and funneling profits to an account in the Bahamas, the new chief prosecutor said.

Venezuela's opposition-led congress already has little power in the country as the Socialist-dominated Supreme Court has stripped it of much of its functions and overruled most of the laws it approved since the opposition took control previous year.

The opposition, which does not recognize the Constituent Assembly, rejected the move. In practice, however, critics say, it will be used to consolidate Maduro's power and insure more political largesse in poor communities in exchange for their loyalty. Since then, the Surpreme Court, largely loyal to Maduro, ensured that the embattled president's agenda prevailed by curbing congress's powers and overturning nearly all of the National Assembly's legislation.

Yet even after the new Constituent Assembly began to meet in its legislative palace this month, opposition lawmakers have continued to convene there in a separate chamber.

The couple's whereabouts had been unknown for several days, but earlier Friday Ortega surfaced briefly, addressing by phone a gathering of Latin America's prosecutors in Mexico.

"Many have had to leave the country for fear of reprisal and for their lives", she said.

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