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Maduro govt seeks to strip opposition lawmaker of immunity

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-19

Venezuela’s Congress on Tuesday requested a criminal investigation into opposition deputy Maria Corina Machado over allegations including treason in relation to her involvement in anti-government protests that have left dozens dead.

Government supporters, who have a majority in the assembly, accuse lawmaker Maria Corina Machado, an outspoken critic of President Nicolas Maduro, of civil disobedience and efforts to destabilise his government.

Tuesday’s vote was to take evidence of alleged crimes to prosecutors. There would need to be approval from prosecutors, the Supreme Court and another vote by the National Assembly to strip her immunity from prosecution. Decisions by the courts and the state prosecutors’ office have frequently been in line with the Socialist Party, meaning the process could take place quickly.

Machado, a 46-year-old engineer, has been one of the most visible leaders in six weeks of opposition demonstrations against Maduro that have unleashed the country’s worst unrest in a decade and seen 29 people killed.

Ruling Socialist Party legislators, who hold a majority of the seats, voted to ask the state prosecutor to investigate Machado for offenses that range from damaging buildings to inciting civil war.

“We will not permit impunity. We will ensure revenge for those deaths. We will ensure these deaths will be paid for,” said legislator Tania Diaz of the ruling Socialist Party. “Anyone who violates the right to life is violating the constitution.”

The move comes a month after the arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who along with Machado launched a national movement at the start of the year under the banner “The Exit” that is meant to help end 15 years of socialist rule.

Lopez has just completed a month in jail on charges of inciting violent protests.

‘A terrified regime’

Tuesday’s theatrical session included a slick video of Machado’s anti-government activism of the last decade that highlighted her links to the US, the Venezuelan government’s ideological adversary.

Machado sat stone-faced as legislators rattled off accusations, with some legislators chanting “justice, justice”.

“I’m convinced that this attack against me is the product of a regime that’s terrified by an unprecedented citizens’ movement,” Machado said in a defiant press conference on Tuesday night, vowing the opposition would keep up protests. “They are determined to break us, and we are determined to win our freedom,” she said, calling Maduro a dictator.

Machado helped turned sporadic student demonstrations in the western Andes region that began in January into a nationwide protest movement that has included both peaceful marches and violent melees between hooded youths and anti-riot troops.

She has urged demonstrators to stay in the streets to protest inflation of 57 percent, chronic product shortages and one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime.

Machado, elected to Congress in 2010, rose to prominence in 2003 through an organisation that helped the opposition gather signatures for what would ultimately be a failed recall referendum in 2004 against the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.

Machado is frequently pilloried by Chavez supporters as an out-of-touch elitist whose wealthy background makes her incapable of relating to the poor.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-03-19

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