Authorities hold 2 judges appointed by Venezuelan opposition

Authorities hold 2 judges appointed by Venezuelan opposition

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's intelligence agency detained two more judges Tuesday that the government-stacked Supreme Court had threatened with arrest after they were appointed by the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

Jesus Rojas Torres and Zuleima Gonzalez were taken into custody by SEBIN agents in Anzoategui, a state in northeastern Venezuela, the National Assembly announced on its Twitter account.

The magistrates are among 33 judges the National Assembly appointed Friday to replace the current Supreme Court.

The troubled nation's highest court quickly declared the appointments unconstitutional and said the judges would be illegally usurping power and betraying the nation if they fulfilled their new posts.

Angel Zerpa — another of the new magistrates — was detained on Saturday.

The Supreme Court has been at the center of nearly four months of political unrest in Venezuela. In late March, the court issued a ruling that stripped the National Assembly of its remaining powers. The decision received international condemnation and was later reversed but sparked nearly-daily protests that have left nearly 100 dead.

More recently, the court has backed President Nicolas Maduro as he pushes forward with a July 30 election to select delegates to a special assembly that will rewrite the constitution. Critics contend Maduro must let Venezuelans decide whether they want to rewrite the constitution first, but the Supreme Court has repeatedly sided with the president.

The opposition appointed the new slate of judges arguing that they no were no longer impartially upholding the rule of law and had been illegally ushered into power in December 2015, shortly after the opposition won a majority in legislative elections, in order to ensure that the ruling party kept control of the Supreme Court.

Zerpa is being accused of betraying the nation and is being tried in a military tribunal, according to Alfredo Romero, head of the Foro Penal, a non-profit group of lawyers. He is currently on a hunger strike in opposition to the detention.

Maduro has expressed his support for detaining the judges, saying Sunday that "one by one" they would be jailed.

Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, the Washington-based organization tasked with defending democracy in the hemisphere, said Tuesday he was designating a former prosecutor with the International Criminal Court to investigate the situation in Venezuela and help decide a course of action.

The prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, prosecuted Syrian President Bashir al-Assad for genocide and former Libyan leader Moammar Gadafi for crimes against humanity during his time at the ICC.

Because Venezuela ratified the Rome Statute, the treaty that set up the ICC, the court has jurisdiction over what happens in Venezuela and can potentially try leaders accused of atrocities, Almagro said.

"The citizens of Venezuela live in terror," Almagro said. "And the terror has its origins in the state from a deliberate, methodical and systemic strategy."

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