Venezuela power struggle intensifies in court battle

By FABIOLA SANCHEZ and CHRISTINE

ARMARIO

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The opposition-controlled congress named a slate of new judges Friday replace the government-stacked Supreme Court, which wasted no time in rejecting the move as an ongoing power struggle heats up between President Nicolas Maduro and his foes.

Emboldened by a 24-hour national strike that paralyzed much of the country the previous day, the National Assembly named the 33 magistrates to replace the entire Supreme Court, which Maduro opponents argue does his bidding and continually violates the constitution. Many of the current court’s justices were hastily appointed shortly before the ruling party lost its majority in congress.

“Today our justice system has been hijacked. It is at the service of the regime,” congresswoman Sonia Medina said at ceremonial swearing-in of the magistrates. “The judges have removed themselves from submitting to the rule of law, from the honor of judicial power, to repress, pursue, torture and jail.”

The Supreme Court promptly moved to block the newcomers, declaring the appointments to be in violation of the constitution.

Jose Mendoza, head of the court’s constitutional branch, said offenses punishable by both the civilian and military penal codes had been committed, and authorities should take unspecified actions in response.

“It is time for them to respect the rules of the game,” Mendoza said.

The National Assembly has the power to install members of the Supreme Court, but Mendoza said there are no vacancies and any judges appointed would be illegally usurping authority.

The National Assembly and the Supreme Court have been at odds since the opposition gained a majority in 2015 legislative elections.