Caracas (AFP) – A new assembly loyal to President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday fired the country’s attorney general, Luisa Ortega, one of his most vociferous critics, triggering a firestorm of condemnation from the US and Latin American nations.
Ortega, who was barred by dozens of soldiers from entering her offices, has been a thorn in Maduro’s side for months, breaking ranks with him over the legality of the Constituent Assembly, which was elected last week in a vote marred by violence and fraud allegations.
She refused to recognize her sacking, or the assembly’s swearing in of Tarek William Saab, the national ombudsman, in her place.
“I am not giving up, Venezuela is not giving up and will not give up against barbarity, illegality, hunger, darkness and death,” she said.
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert tweeted that the “United States condemns (the) illegal removal” of Ortega, adding the move was aimed at tightening the “authoritarian dictatorship of (the) Maduro regime.”
Colombia, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and Peru equally slammed the decision, made by the Constituent Assembly as its very first order of business.
The assembly also said Ortega would face trial for “irregularities” from her time in office and was forbidden from leaving the country.
One of the assembly’s most prominent members, Diosdado Cabello, said of the firing: “This is not a personal, political lynching, just carrying out the law.”
Ortega’s sacking had been widely expected. But its swiftness — and the fact it was a unanimous vote — stirred wide unease.
– Lopez returned to house arrest –
Also on Saturday opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was returned to house arrest after being detained in military prison for four days.
“They just moved Leopoldo home,” his wife Lilian Tintori wrote on Twitter. “We continue with more conviction and strength for peace and freedom in Venezuela!”
Lopez had been arrested along with another opposition leader Antonio Ledezma — who was released back to home detention Friday — in the aftermath of the highly contested vote to create the assembly.
Maduro and his Socialist party have “completely taken hostage” Venezuela’s institutions through “an undemocratic mechanism that is utterly dictatorial,” the leader of the opposition-controlled legislature, Julio Borges, told reporters.
The opposition has vowed to maintain street protests against the assembly.
Four months of demonstrations violently matched by security forces have left at least 125 people dead.