Maduro moves to defuse tension after court ruling

President Nicolas Maduro urges supreme court to review its decision to annul Congress, which critics called a 'coup'.

    Maduro moves to defuse tension after court ruling
    Pockets of protesters blocked roads, unfurled banners and chanted slogans against Maduro [Reuters]

    Venezuelan authorities have called on the country's supreme court to review its decision to annul the opposition-led Congress, which critics have decried as a "coup" and a lurch towards dictatorship.

    In a midnight address on state television, President Nicolas Maduro said the conflict between the Supreme Tribunal and National Assembly had been overcome but gave no details.

    Flanked by senior officials, Maduro introduced his Vice President Tareck El Aissami who said: "[We] urge the supreme court to review the decisions ... in order to maintain institutional stability and the balance of powers."

    Maduro had earlier rejected accusations that moves to consolidate his power in the crisis-hit country violated the Constitution. His opponents accused him of staging a coup after the Supreme Tribunal took over powers from the legislature and removed legislators' immunity. 

    On Wednesday, the pro-Maduro Supreme Tribunal said it was taking over the legislature's role because it was in "contempt" of the law. It had shot down most of the National Assembly's measures since the opposition won control in 2015.

    International powers condemned the court's move, which gave the socialist president control over the only major state institution that still had been out of his grasp.

    The move earned the government public condemnation for the first time from a senior member of Maduro's own camp, Attorney General Luisa Ortega, who broke ranks with him on Friday.

    She branded the court's rulings a "rupture of constitutional order," in a surprise declaration on state television.

    "It constitutes a rupture of the constitutional order," the 59-year-old said in a speech on state television. "It's my obligation to express my great concern to the country."

    READ MORE: Nicolas Maduro accused of 'coup' over Congress powers

    Throughout Friday, pockets of protesters blocked roads, unfurled banners and chanted slogans against Maduro's unpopular government, including "Freedom!" and "No To Dictatorship!"

    "Hunger, lack of medicines and babies dying, how did the government bring us to this point?" Edith Sandoval, a Venezuelan, told Al Jazeera.

    "And now they're eliminating a basic constitutional institution. And we pay the consequences."

    Al Jazeera's Alessandro Rampietti, reporting from Cucuta on the Venezuela-Colombia border, said the controversy surrounding the court's decision was to be resolved soon. 

    "It was a surprise announcement and it comes after a day of protests in the capital as students and opposition supporters clashed with security forces," he said.

    "We also saw divisions among government supporters for the first time with the country's attorney general coming out and publicly criticising the decision."

    Maduro, 54, was narrowly elected in 2013 amid widespread support for the ruling Socialist Party's welfare programmes.

    But his ratings have plummeted to just over 20 percent as Venezuelans struggle with a fourth year of recession, scarcities of food and medicines and the highest inflation in the world.

    Critics blame a failing socialist system, whereas the government says its enemies are waging an "economic war". The fall in oil prices since mid-2014 has exacerbated the crisis. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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