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Venezuelan Supreme Court accuses several lawmakers of treason as congress building blocked



CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan Supreme Court accused four torture resistance offenders on Tuesday, following similar accusations against 10 lawmakers this month escalating a deep political crisis in the South American country.

Venezuelan police members queue near the National Assembly building in Caracas, Venezuela on May 14, 2019. REUTERS / Ivan Alvarado

Security forces had previously prevented lawmakers from entering the legislature for Tuesday's session and said they were investigating The possible presence of an explosive device inside the building.

The Supreme Court in a statement on his Facebook page accused lawmakers Carlos Paparoni, Miguel Pizarro, Franco Casella and Winston Flores of treason and encouraging rebellion. The accusations marked the recent move in the dismantling of President Nicolas Maduro on allies of opposition leader Juan Guaido following a failed effort to spur a military uprising in April.

"This just gives us more strength," said Flores Reuters, who calls the Supreme Court's prosecutor "false orders from the dictator." "We know they will continue this process of trying to destroy the National Assembly."

Last week, an opposition legislature was arrested and several took refuge in foreign embassies in Caracas or fled the country for similar charges from court.

Flores said he would make an "emergency" trip to Uruguay to condemn the wave of accusations against Venezuelan lawmakers to the parliament in the Mercosur trade block, where he is also a representative in Montevideo.

In a tweet, the Pizarro called the court order "an illegal sentence that only seeks to generate fear of closing us up."

Reuters could not receive comments from the other legislators.

Opposition leaders in recent weeks have called such charges an action by the ruling socialist party to close the legislator. The Trump administration strongly condemned this month's detention by Edgar Zambrano, Vice President of the Legislature.

Guaido, leader of the opposition-led assembly, in January pleaded with Venezuela's constitution to assume a temporary presidency, as arguments for Maduro's re-election in 2018 were illegal. More than 50 countries have recognized him as the country's legitimate leader and say that the Assembly is its last remaining democratic institution.

"This is a dictatorship that goes after dissidents and we are fighting for a political change," legislator Juan Pablo Guanipa told Reuters referring to the blocking of Congress.

Tuesday's session was scheduled for 10:00 (1400 GMT) but never began. The lawmakers were prepared to discuss the charges against their colleagues and the arrest of Zambrano, an unprecedented critic of Maduro.

Venezuela's Ministry of Information, which handles media inquiries on behalf of the government, did not respond to a request for comment on why security forces blocked the entrance to parliament. Maduro, a socialist, calls Guaido a puppet in the United States seeking to shed him in a coup.

The government removed the assembly of most of its powers after the opposition won a majority in 2015 elections. Legislators who are loyal to Maduro generally do not attend meetings, but attend meetings of the Constituent Assembly, a legislative body set up in 2017, meeting in the same building.

Pro state supporters shouting slogans near the National Assembly building in Caracas, Venezuela on May 14, 2019. REUTERS / Ivan Alvarado

The Constituent Assembly is governed by the ruling socialist party and its powers replace the national assemblies.

Opposition legislator Jorge Millan told reporters the report on "bombs" in the building was false.

"It's a trick to prevent Parliament from working today," he said. "If we don't have a session today, we'll do it tomorrow."

Reporting by Mayela Armas and Corina Pons; Further reporting and writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Bill Berkrot

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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