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Vatican urges Venezuela's Maduro to suspend new legislative superbody
05 August 2017, 12:38 | Marta Robbins
Vatican opposes Venezuelan government's plan for new constitution
Just hours ahead of the assembly's inaugural session, Venezuela's intelligence service unexpectedly transferred a high-profile opposition figure, Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, from jail back to house arrest, his family said.
She also ordered prosecutors to investigate the allegations of election tampering.
President Nicolas Maduro says the 545-member assembly, which was elected on Sunday in a vote boycotted by the opposition, will bring peace to a nation beset by violent protests and a profound economic crisis.
But former foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez, who will be the new assembly's president, said in an opening speech: "There is no humanitarian crisis here".
The election has come under mounting scrutiny since the CEO of an global voting technology company said that "without any doubt" the official voter turnout number had been tampered with a charge that Maduro and the National Electoral Council have dismissed. "We thank the people of Venezuela and the worldwide community for their concern and solidarity". The Vatican issued a statement asking that Friday's planned installation of the assembly be suspended and urged Venezuela's security forces to avoid "excessive and disproportionate use of force" in dealing with protesters.
The opposition staged protests in the capital on Friday, but there were no signs of the street violence of the past four months that has left a death toll of more than 125.
"There has been a gradual erosion of democratic practise and this is a significant line that has been crossed", said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based think tank Inter-American Dialogue. It also appealed for Venezuelan security forces to show restraint. "To attach the term democracy to Venezuela with this new constituent assembly is on very weak ground".
Opposition lawmakers have pledged to remain in power no matter what action is taken by the constitutional assembly, raising the possibility of two governing bodies operating side by side, with neither recognizing the other.
The US has imposed direct sanctions on Maduro, calling him a "dictator", while the European Union has joined the US, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina in saying it would not recognise the new assembly.
The Constituent Assembly has the power to rewrite the constitution and dissolve state institutions, and will be seated in a chamber of the Legislative Palace in Caracas, where the Opposition-controlled Parliament normally convenes.
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