Venezuela's Constituent Assembly strips Guaido of immunity, may face prosecution

Caracas, Capital District, VenezuelaUpdated: Apr 03, 2019, 08:09 AM IST

File photo of Venezuela's Juan Guaido Photograph:(AFP)

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The assembly's president, Diosdado Cabello, announced the body had unanimously authorized the Supreme Court to prosecute Guaido, who is recognized as Venezuela's interim president by over 50 countries.

Venezuela's ruling Constituent Assembly stripped opposition leader Juan Guaido's immunity Tuesday and authorised the crisis-hit country's high court to criminally prosecute him for usurpation of functions.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Tuesday insisted nothing would stop his bid to remove his rival.

"The people are determined and nothing is going to stop us," the self-declared interim president, who is recognized by over 50 countries, announced to supporters and journalists.

"There is no turning back in this process," he added.

Guaido -- who is recognised by over 50 countries -- had earlier expressed fears of being abducted by government agents following a request by the Supreme Court on Monday to the Constituent Assembly to lift his parliamentary immunity.

Critics of the controversial two-year-old body say it was created to rubber-stamp Maduro's decisions and sideline the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

"They can try to kidnap me," said Guaido, recognised as the oil-rich country's interim president by more than 50 countries.

The Constituent Assembly's president, Diosdado Cabello, announced pro-Maduro lawmakers had unanimously authorised the Supreme Court to prosecute Guaido, leaving him also liable to be charged for breaching a January 29 government ban on leaving the country.

The court had been investigating Guaido for usurping Maduro's powers by declaring himself interim president on January 23 -- a move which rapidly gained international support.

"You know how the regime acts. This is not even persecution -- this is an inquisition," said Guaido, who recognises neither the court nor the Constituent Assembly.

Neither institution "has the quality of being able to lift immunity or invalidate, we have to say things as they are," he said.

Travel ban 

Guaido was speaking to reporters prior to a meeting of his own National Assembly, which sits in the same federal palace building as the rival Constituent Assembly.

Monday's court ruling cited Guaido's violation of a ban on his travel outside Venezuela when he visited Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Paraguay from late February to early March.

The move came after Venezuela's auditor general's office announced Thursday that it had stripped Guaido of the right to hold public office for 15 years, a decision he rejected as invalid.

Parallel to the political battle, the country has been hit by a series of devastating blackouts that have left millions without water, prompting the government to replace the country's energy minister and institute power rationing in a bid to address the outages.

Three major blackouts hit Venezuela in March, worsening already dire living and economic conditions in the country, and prompting authorities to take steps aimed at curbing the outages

Maduro -- whose government has blamed "terrorists" for alleged attacks that have damaged the country's main hydroelectric power plant -- announced that he was appointing Igor Gavidia Leon to replace retired general Luis Motta Dominguez as energy minister.

The new minister "is an electrical industry worker with 25 years of experience, an engineer who had many responsibilities," Maduro said.

On Sunday, Maduro announced 30 days of electricity rationing, after his government said it was shortening the workday and keeping schools closed due to blackouts.

The measures are a stark admission by the government that there is not enough electricity to go around, and that the power crisis is here to stay.

With no electricity, pumping stations can't work, so water service is limited.

Schools and universities are scheduled to reopen on Wednesday.