Venezuela's opposition questions key judicial appointments

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's opposition is blasting a string of key appointments it says will further bend the country's judiciary to the interests of President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government.

Among the 12 Supreme Court justices appointed Sunday by the National Assembly are two judges responsible for the decade-long imprisonment of a former Caracas police chief whose case has rallied the opposition.

Last week, the government-dominated legislature also extended for another seven years the term of questioned chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega — one of several Venezuelan officials targeted by U.S. sanctions for cracking down on anti-government protests earlier this year — and named two government allies, a former governor and the current Attorney General, to head the nominally independent human rights and anti-corruption watchdog agencies.

Venezuela's constitution requires two-thirds of lawmakers approve high-level judicial appointments from a slate of candidates pre-approved by a citizens' committee that's supposed to be free of interference by the executive. But in deeply polarized Venezuela, the months-long selection process has been marred by nasty bickering from the outset, making compromise impossible.

With many appointments overdue, the pro-government majority in the legislature bypassed the rules, in some cases approving appointments by a simple majority and, more controversially, leaving to the Supreme Court the task of appointing three of the five members of the National Electoral Council who will oversee next year's parliamentary elections.

The government accuses the opposition of being obstructionist, while the government's critics say such moves violate the constitution.

The Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists earlier this year criticized Venezuela's "very weak" legal institutions, saying that the government pressures judges to jail its opponents and rubber stamp decisions.

"Judicial appointments in Venezuela are used like an award meted out to those who show unconditional support for the revolution," said Antonio Canova, a Caracas lawyer and author of a new book analyzing 45,474 rulings by the Supreme Court since 2004, not a single one found to rebuke the government's interests.

Elvis Amoroso, a pro-government lawmaker who oversaw the committee that filtered candidates, said all of the appointees met the legal requirements and that past political activism shouldn't disqualify them from holding high office.


AP Writer Joshua Goodman contributed to this report from Bogota, Colombia

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