Chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz has filed a court claim one day ahead of the contested assembly’s planned inauguration. A South American trade bloc has also threatened Venezuela with indefinite suspension.
The office of Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz announced Thursday on Twitter that two prosecutors from her team had submitted a court claim seeking to suspend Friday’s planned installation of the National Constituent Assembly, a newly-elected and highly contested body tasked by President Nicolas Maduro to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution.
Ortega’s request to a preliminary proceedings court – seen as a move to circumvent the Maduro-friendly Supreme Court – was “based on suspected crimes committed” during last Sunday’s election, the office’s second tweet on the subject said.
Ortega has been an outspoken critic of Maduro, who has previously challenged the constitutionality of the new assembly. Earlier on Thursday Venezuela’s top attorney announced she had opened an investigation into government manipulation of turnout in Sunday’s election, during which members were chosen for the 545-seat Constituent Assembly.
Read more: Venezuelan election turnout ‘manipulated,’ says poll-assist firm
The country’s opposition boycotted the vote, which also drew international condemnation from Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, and the European Union and saw the United States issue sanctions on the socialist nation. Maduro’s critics see the body as a tool to override Venezuela’s separation of powers and consolidate Maduro’s executive control.
On Thursday the opposition also announced a new round of demonstrations to take place on Friday, calling on Venezuelans to “defend the constitution.” Protests between Maduro opponents and supporters have left more than 120 people dead over four months.
Trade bloc suspension
The South American free-trade bloc Mercosur also announced Thursday that it is preparing to suspend oil-rich Venezuela until the country restores democracy and ends human rights violations. Mercosur members are set to suspend Venezuela by invoking the group’s democratic clause over the weekend.
Caracas was already suspended temporarily in December 2016.
In calling for Venezuela’s indefinite suspension, Argentine President Mauricio Marci described Venezuela as a country that had “ceased to be a democracy.” Mercosur had originally planned to apply the democratic clause at the end of 2017 but decided to move the date forward in the aftermath of Sunday’s elections and the arrest of several leaders of the Venezuelan opposition movement.
Alongside Argentina, the trade bloc includes Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The member nations’ ambassadors are scheduled to meet on Saturday in Sao Paolo to enact the suspension and discuss the possibility of harder repercussions for Caracas.