Venezuela constitutional assembly ousts chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega

The Vatican is urging Venezuela's government to "avoid or suspend" the new assembly tasked with rewriting the constitution while holding near-absolute powers.

The delegates unanimously elected Friday their leader, Delcy Rodriguez, who now has more power than Maduro.

"We are in the face of a grave and unprecedented action that could constitute a crime", Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega said in a statement by the prosecutor's office, which quoted her interview with CNN.

"Don't think we're going to wait weeks, months or years", she said.

Rodríguez announced that tomorrow will be the first session of the Constituent Assembly, as it "begins to act in favor of the people".

More than 120 people have meanwhile died in anti-Maduro protests over the last four months, according to the news wire service.

Mercosur, a South American trading bloc, was meeting on Saturday in Brazil to decide whether Venezuelan should be suspended from it for "breaching democratic order".

The Vatican has called for a suspension of the Constituent Assembly, saying Friday that it contributed to a climate of tension and conflict.

The Assembly was installed in the Federal Legislative Palace of Caracas, next to the hall of sessions of the National Assembly (Congress), which has an opposition majority and whose future is unknown.

Pope Francis, both directly and through Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, "closely follows that situation and it's humanitarian, social, political, economic and even spiritual implications, and assures of his constant prayer for the country and for all Venezuelans", while inviting faithful around the world "to pray intensely for this situation". Private exit polling put actual turnout at less than half that, and the company that provides voting machines and election software said the results were overstated by at least 1 million votes.

In an unexpected move, the government returned opposition leader Antonio Ledezma to house arrest after hauling him back to prison Tuesday for fueling protests against the Constituent Assembly.

The 545-member constituent assembly is made up entirely of pro-government loyalists after the opposition boycotted the vote as unconstitutional.

It called on all the country's government, to guarantee full respect for human rights and basic freedoms, as well as for the existing Constitution.

"To attach the term democracy to Venezuela with this new constituent Assembly is on very weak ground". Two days ago the USA placed him in the Department of the Treasurys Office of Foreign Assets Control as a Specially Designated National, joining another 30-something current and former members of his administration, including his Vice President and the head justice of the Supreme Court. Critics say his policies have pushed Venezuela into an economic crisis marked by triple digit inflation and severe shortages of food and medicine.

And in a surprise reversal, security forces transferred the Caracas mayor, Antonio Ledezma, from jail to house arrest, just days after they whisked him out of his home in his pajamas in a midnight raid.

  • Rogelio Becker