The Latest: Venezuela opposition leader back to house arrest

The Latest: Venezuela opposition leader back to house arrest

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The Latest on Venezuela's political crisis (all times local):

11:30 p.m.

Venezuelan opposition activist Leopoldo Lopez has been returned home after being taken back to jail nearly a week ago.

The activist's wife Lilian Tintori said in a message on Twitter that she and her husband remain committed to achieving "peace and freedom for Venezuela."

Lopez was released from prison on July 8 and placed under house arrest after serving three years of a 13-year sentence on charges of inciting violence at opposition rallies. Many human rights groups considered him a political prisoner.

But he was taken back into custody in the middle of the night Tuesday along with former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma in what many believed was a renewed crackdown on the opposition following the election of delegates to the constitutional assembly.


8:10 p.m.

The United States is condemning a move by Venezuela's new constitutional assembly to oust the country's chief prosecutor.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says the removal of Luisa Ortega was illegal and an attempt to tighten the "authoritarian dictatorship" of President Nicolas Maduro.

She says the U.S. applauds the action by South American trade bloc Mercosur to suspend Venezuela for failing to follow democratic norms.

The U.S. had urged Venezuela not to hold the election for the assembly and has said the vote was illegitimate.

The U.S. condemnation comes as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in the Philippines to meet with Asian diplomats.


6:15 p.m.

The head of Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress made an emotional plea for opponents of President Maduro to remain mobilized on the streets to capitalize growing international pressure on the embattled socialist.

"What we're seeing in Venezuela is the complete abduction of all its institutions by a single hand, a single political party" Julio Borges, president of the opposition-controlled congress, told journalists after the constitutional assembly voted Saturday to remove chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, an action reserved for the national assembly according to the current constitution.

An opposition protest Friday against the installation of the pro-government super assembly failed to draw more than a few hundred demonstrators — one of the smallest turnouts in more than four months of deadly street demonstrations that has left more than 120 dead and hundreds more jailed.

Borges seemed to recognize the challenges the opposition faces regaining its footing and warned that government's use of scare tactics will only intensify in the coming days. But he urged Venezuelans to continue to protest peacefully and said lawmakers would do their part by continuing to convene, the next time Monday.

"The only thing the government has left is violence and brute force," he said. "We shouldn't think the government is winning. The only thing it's doing is destroying itself and committing suicide."


4:55 p.m.

Venezuela's all-powerful constitutional assembly is eliciting jeers from regional critics on Twitter and cheers from some allies after voting to oust the country's chief prosecutor on its second day in session.

President Juan Manuel Santos of neighboring Colombia calls Saturday's removal of Luisa Ortega "the first dictatorial act" of an "illegitimate" assembly and vows solidarity with the Venezuelan people.

Luis Almagro is secretary-general of the Organization of American States. He tweets that the designation of government loyalist Tarek William Saab as Ortega's replacement is a "null act" by an "unconstitutional Assembly in the context of the breakdown of institutional order in Venezuela."

But Bolivian President Evo Morales is full of praise for the assembly. He says the body is guided by the legacy of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and South American independence hero Simon Bolivar.

Morales tweets that "democracy is guaranteed through the votes of the people and not through bullets or hatred or violence created by the empire."

Morales, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and other ideological allies commonly use the term "empire" as shorthand for the United States.


4:20 p.m.

Venezuela's constitutional assembly has sworn in a government loyalist to replace the ousted Luisa Ortega as the nation's chief prosecutor.

Tarek William Saab immediately vowed to protect the rights of Venezuelans amid what he said were "historic circumstances" marked by external threats faced by everyone "from the head of state to the most modest of Venezuelans."

Saab had been serving as Venezuela's Ombudsman, charged with protecting the rights of Venezuelans. But he was sanctioned last month by the Trump administration for allegedly failing to carry out his duties amid a crackdown on anti-government protesters that has left dozens dead and hundreds more jailed.

Saab is considered one of President Maduro's most staunch supporters. He has remained loyal even in the face of familial strife after his son, at the start of the protest movement, released a video calling on his father to abandon the government and put himself on the right side of history.


3:45 p.m.

Luisa Ortega isn't going quietly after Venezuela's new, all-powerful constitutional assembly removed her from her office as chief prosecutor for the South American nation.

Ortega says in a statement that she refuses to recognize the assembly's decision and will continue fighting injustices committed by the government "with my last breath."

Ortega says Saturday's action against her should sound alarms in Venezuela and around the world over the lengths to which President Nicolas Maduro's government is willing to go to carry out a "coup" against the constitution.

She calls it "just a tiny example of what's coming for everyone that dares to oppose this totalitarian form of ruling."

Ortega is a longtime government loyalist who broke with Maduro in April. She signed the statement using her prosecutor's title.


2:15 p.m.

Venezuela's president is accusing Washington and its regional allies of a campaign of lies against his country in order to appropriate the world's largest oil reserves.

Nicolas Maduro says "they come walking down the middle of the street barking orders, treating rulers like their maids."

He suggests that their ultimate goal is "our immense petroleum wealth."

Maduro's comments appear to be a response to President Donald's Trump's threat to slap economic sanctions on Venezuela after a special assembly packed with government loyalists was installed Friday. Its mission is to rewrite the nation's constitution, but many fear it will lead to a new crackdown on the president's political opponents.

Maduro spoke in an interview with Radio Rebelde of Argentina on Saturday, shortly before the assembly ordered the removal of Venezuela's chief prosecutor, a onetime loyalist turned staunch critic of the government.


1:45 p.m.

President Trump's top national security adviser says he doesn't see a military intervention in Venezuela as likely, even as he's calling on nations to help "rescue" the country from "authoritarian dictatorship."

General H.R. McMaster notes the historical resentment in Latin America over the United States' long history of military interventions in the region. He says he doesn't want to give Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro any added ammunition to blame the "Yankees" for the oil-rich nation's economic and political crisis.

McMaster says in an interview with Hugh Hewitt that aired Saturday on MSNBC that "You've seen Maduro have some lame attempts to try to do that already."

He adds that "it's important for us to place responsibility for this catastrophe on Maduro's shoulders. He is the one who has caused it, and he's the one who's perpetuating it."

McMaster singles out backing from Cuba as well as financial support from China and Russia for keeping Maduro in power.

The Trump administration slapped sanctions on Maduro following the recent election of a constitutional assembly with authority trumping all other branches of government.

Maduro accuses Washington of conspiring with Venezuela's opposition to seek his ouster. He repeated his claim that Venezuela is the victim of international aggression in an interview with Argentina's Radio Rebelde on Saturday.

In his words: "The United States has historically believed itself the owner of Latin America."


11:45 a.m.

Venezuela's newly installed constitutional assembly has voted unanimously to remove chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega and replaced her with a government loyalist.

As the vote was taking place, pro-government delegates shouted "traitor" and "justice has arrived!"

She will be replaced by Tarek William Saab, a staunch government supporter who currently serves as the nation's ombudsman.

Saturday's vote came after security forces took control of the entrance to the prosecutor's office in downtown Caracas and barred Ortega from entering.

Human rights groups and foreign governments have denounced attacks by government officials on Ortega, the nation's top law enforcement official.


11:30 a.m.

The South American trade bloc Mercosur has decided to suspend Venezuela for failing to follow democratic norms.

Venezuela was previously suspended in December for failing to uphold commitments it made when it joined the group in 2012.

Saturday's decision will make it harder for the country to return to good standing since the new suspension can only be lifted when the bloc is satisfied that Venezuela has restored democratic order.

The meeting of Mercosur foreign ministers in Sao Paulo on Saturday comes as Venezuela's newly formed constitutional assembly pledged to move quickly against President Nicolas Maduro's opponents.

The assembly will have sweeping powers and the opposition fears it will be used to strengthen Maduro's power and crack down further on dissent.


11:20 a.m.

Venezuela's chief prosecutor says she is being barred from entering her offices by security forces that surrounded the building as a pro-government constitutional assembly is expected to consider removing her.

Luisa Ortega says troops pushed and "attacked" her with their riot shields to prevent her from accessing the headquarters of the public ministry.

She accuses authorities of trying to hide corruption and human rights violations.

Ortega spoke Saturday to journalists gathered beyond a heavy security perimeter set up by hundreds of national guardsmen.

Ortega was a longtime loyalist who broke with President Nicolas Maduro in April, accusing him of violating the nation's constitutional order.

Several members of the newly installed assembly tasked with rewriting Venezuela's constitution say they want to remove her as part of their first order of business.


7:55 a.m.

A few dozen members of Venezuela's national guard have surrounded the offices of the chief prosecutor before her possible removal by a newly-empowered constitutional assembly.

The troops, numbering around 30, arrived early Saturday and closed off access to the building in downtown Caracas where Luisa Ortega's office is located.

There was no immediate explanation by the government but Ortega tweeted photos of the troop movements to denounce what she called an arbitrary "siege" of her office.

The pro-government constitutional assembly meets Saturday after convening a day earlier for the first time. Top on the agenda is expected to be a proposal to remove Ortega, a longtime loyalist who broke with President Nicolas Maduro's government amid widespread protests in April over what she said was his breaking of Venezuela's constitutional order.


12 a.m.

The head of Venezuela's newly installed constitutional assembly pledged to move quickly against President Nicolas Maduro's political opponents, beginning as early as the all-powerful body's second meeting on Saturday.

Former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez's nomination as leader was unanimously approved by the assembly's 545 delegates in Friday's session, which was held despite strong criticism from Washington and Venezuela's opposition, which fear the body will be a tool for imposing dictatorship. Supporters say it will pacify a country rocked by violent protests.

The assembly was scheduled to meet again Saturday, and Rodriguez said it would be taking action against the socialist government's opponents.

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