Venezuela moves to defuse Supreme Court powers dispute


Venezuela’s authorities have urged the Supreme Court to reconsider a ruling stripping congress of its powers, which critics have called a "coup".

Speaking after a high-level meeting called to discuss the move, the vice-president said the review was needed "to maintain institutional stability".

President Nicolas Maduro said the conflict between the Supreme Court and the legislature had been resolved.

But the opposition, which dominates congress, dismissed the announcement.

"This tactical retreat does not solve the underlying problem," senior opposition leader Freddy Guevara tweeted (in Spanish).

He called on supporters to "continue the fight for freedom" and hold a new protest in the capital Caracas on Saturday.

Rare high-level criticism

Wednesday’s decision by the Supreme Court to take over the legislature’s role sparked days of demonstrations.

On Friday chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, an ally of President Nicolas Maduro, was the first high-ranking official to criticise the judges.

Speaking live on TV, she expressed "great concern" about a measure which she said violated the constitution.

Promising dialogue to end the crisis, Mr Maduro convened a late-night meeting of the state security council.

Afterwards Vice-President Tareck El Aissami said: "We urge the Supreme Court to review the decisions... in order to maintain institutional stability and the balance of powers."

Mr Maduro said: "This controversy has been overcome, showing the power of dialogue."

How did the dispute start?

On Wednesday the Supreme Court seized power from the National Assembly, allowing it to write laws itself.

The court accused lawmakers of "contempt" after allegations of irregularities by three opposition lawmakers during the 2015 elections.

It did not indicate if or when it might hand power back.

The court had previously backed the leftist president in his ongoing struggles with the legislature - on Tuesday removing parliamentary immunity from the assembly’s members.

There has been widespread international condemnation, with the Organisation of American States (OAS) calling it the "final blow to democracy" in Venezuela.

Why is Venezuela in crisis?

Tensions have been high because the country has been engulfed in a severe economic crisis.

It has the world’s highest inflation rate, which the International Monetary Fund predicts could reach 1,660% next year. Long queues, power cuts and shortages of basic goods are common.

The government and opposition blame each other for the country’s problems, made worse by the falling prices of oil, Venezuela’s main export product.

President Maduro has become increasingly unpopular, and the opposition has called for his removal from office and fresh elections.

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