Venezuelan police seal off parliament, four MPs accused of treason

  15 May 2019    Read: 945
Venezuelan police seal off parliament, four MPs accused of treason

Venezuela's government and judiciary on Tuesday stepped up pressure on the opposition-controlled National Assembly, with security forces preventing its members from entering the parliament building while the country's top court accused four more lawmakers of treason.

Soldiers and police sealed off parliament following an alleged bomb threat, local media reported.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido accused President Nicolas Maduro's government of "persecuting" and trying to "kidnap" the National Assembly. The parliamentary session was postponed until Wednesday.

The Supreme Tribunal of Justice meanwhile indicted four more lawmakers with crimes including treason and conspiracy.

The court announced the charges on Facebook. It also asked the pro-Maduro Constituent Assembly to lift the legislators' parliamentary immunity so they can be investigated.

Seven lawmakers have already had their immunity lifted and three others are waiting for the Constituent Assembly to handle such requests.

Two of the legislators have sought refuge at the Italian embassy and one at the Argentinian embassy in Caracas. Edgar Zambrano, who is the vice president of the Guaido-headed National Assembly, was arrested last week.

The judiciary ratcheted up pressure on the National Assembly after the government accused Guaido of attempting a coup on April 30. The opposition leader then called for a military insurrection, but has denied attempting a coup.

Guaido has won the support of dozens of countries for his campaign to oust Maduro, who won a second term in a disputed election a year ago.

His rule has been marked by a massive economic and political crisis, with about 3.4 million Venezuelans fleeing hyperinflation, goods shortages and political unrest abroad.

Also on Tuesday, Amnesty International said Maduro's government may have committed crimes against humanity and called for it to be taken before "an independent and impartial judicial body."

"Selective extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions, and deaths and injuries caused by the excessive use of force by Nicolas Maduro's government as part of a systematic and widespread policy of repression since at least 2017 may constitute crimes against humanity," the rights group said in a statement based on a new report.

During massive anti-government protests from 21 to 25 January this year, at least 47 people were shot dead in 12 of the country's 23 states, according to Amnesty.

At least 33 of them were killed by state security forces and six by third parties acting with the approval of the authorities. More than 900 people were arbitrarily detained.

Amnesty has also denounced more than 8,000 extrajudicial executions by the security forces between 2015 and 2017.

The rights group urged the UN Human Rights Council to establish a commission of inquiry and called for "the activation of universal jurisdiction by countries genuinely concerned about the situation in the country."

The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, which began a preliminary examination on Venezuela at the start of 2018, "should also take these events into consideration," the statement added.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meanwhile urged Russia to stop supporting Maduro.

The president has "brought nothing but misery to the Venezuelan people," he said in the Russian city of Sochi at joint press conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, who responded by saying that "threats by the US administration" against the Venezuelan leadership have "nothing to do with democracy."

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