Venezuela’s new pro-government constituent assembly has removed dissident state prosecutor Luisa Ortega from her job.
Critics are describing it as a blatant affront to democracy.
The new constituent assembly, which Ortega said was fraudulently elected in a poll last weekend, unanimously decided to remove her in its first session on Saturday.
Earlier in the day, security forces had taken up position in front of her office, preventing her from entering the building.
She left on a motor bike amid the chaos.
Has Ortega been replaced?
Yes. The constituent assembly replaced her with human rights ombudsman Tarek Saab.
He is described as a government ally whom the opposition says has turned a blind eye to state abuses.
How have relations soured so badly?
Ortega has become President Nicolas Maduro’s main challenger from within the governing socialist movement since the opposition started a round of protests in April.
She has accused him of human rights abuses.
What is happening with Mercosur?
The South American trade block suspended Venezuela indefinitely on Saturday. This will add to the international pressure on President Maduro to dismantle the newly-created assembly.
The foreign ministers of Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil announced the decision in Sao Paolo. They urged Maduro to release political prisoners and begin a political transition.
“We are saying: Stop with this! Enough with the deaths, enough with the repression. It is not possible to inflict such torture on the people,” Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes said after the meeting.
Why is there so much opposition to the new assembly?
Critics say the new legislative body has no checks on its powers. They point to the decision to remove Ortega as an ominous sign of a swerve by Maduro into full-blown dictatorship.
They say it could also re-write the constitution, re-arrange state institutions and allow Maduro to rule by decree.
Assembly members had said they would fire Ortega the first chance they got.
The assembly was installed despite opposition street protests. More than 120 people have died in four months of sustained marches against Maduro.
What do the president’s critics say?
That his policies have pushed Venezuela into an economic crisis marked by triple digit inflation and severe shortages of food and medecine.
What does the president say?
Maduro says the US “empire” is waging economic war on Venezuela. He refuses to allow humanitarian aid to enter the country.
He says the new assembly is the only way to unify Venezuela into a peaceful, prosperous socialist state.
How will the new assembly work with Venezuela’s congress?
It will operate in the same legislative complex in downtown Caracas as the existing opposition-run congress, which could potentially be dissolved.
For the moment, the two bodies are set to hold sessions in paralle, separated by an ornate cobblestone courtyard.
What they are saying
“The constituent assembly is solving Maduro’s political problems, handing out quotas and lynching institutions,” said opposition lawmaker Jose Manuel Olivares after news of Ortega’s removal.
“There is no humanitarian crisis here. What we have is love. What we have is a crisis of the right-wing fascists,” – former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, a hard-line Maduro loyalist, was named president of the new assembly.