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Venezuela seeks cross-border arrest of ex-prosecutor

© AFP / by Alexander MARTINEZ | Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who called for his ex-attorney general's arrest, has faced months of deadly mass protests by opponents who blame him for an economic crisis and are demanding elections to replace him

CARACAS (AFP) - 

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday he would seek international cooperation to arrest a fired chief prosecutor who fled the country after defying him amid a deadly political crisis.

"Venezuela is going to ask Interpol to issue a red notice against these people involved in serious crimes," Maduro told a news conference, referring to ex-chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega and her lawmaker husband.

The couple faces court action by Maduro's allies which they have denounced as politically motivated.

The two neighboring countries they have so far fled to, Colombia and then Brazil, have echoed Ortega in condemning Maduro's handling of the crisis, as has the United States.

A former loyalist of the socialist leadership, Ortega broke ranks with Maduro to become his most high-ranking domestic critic as international pressure on the president mounted.

Ortega, 59, was fired from her post this month after being earlier charged with misconduct by authorities loyal to Maduro.

She and her husband, German Ferrer, fled on Friday after the pro-Maduro Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant against Ferrer for alleged corruption and extortion.

They arrived in Colombia on Friday and on Tuesday left for Brazil, Colombian migration authorities said.

The Venezuelan courts had already frozen Ortega's assets and banned her from traveling abroad.

- Call to pope -

Maduro has faced months of deadly mass protests by opponents who blame him for an economic crisis and are demanding elections to replace him.

International pressure has also grown, with US President Donald Trump even saying this month that the United States reserved the option of military intervention in the Venezuela crisis.

Maduro on Tuesday called on Pope Francis to help ward off the US "military threat."

"May the pope help us prevent Trump from sending troops to invade Venezuela," Maduro told a news conference.

"I ask for the pope's help against the military threat from the United States."

Vatican-backed talks between Maduro's side and the center right-led opposition broke down last year. But Maduro on Tuesday called for Francis also to "help us establish a respectful dialogue" again.

- Corruption claims -

Last month, Maduro set up a new constitutional authority packed with his allies, which a few days later removed Ortega from her post.

She hit back on Friday by claiming she had evidence implicating Maduro and his close allies in an international bribery scandal involving Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.

"They are very worried and anxious, because they know we have details on all the cooperation, amounts and people who got rich," Ortega told a meeting of Latin American prosecutors in Mexico by video conference.

"And that investigation involves Mr Nicolas Maduro and his inner circle."

Maduro counter-attacked on Sunday, alleging on television that Ortega had received money for blocking corruption investigations that he had ordered.

He accused Ferrer of running an "extortion network" in the state prosecution service.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles was also forced on Monday to deny claims that his 2012 election campaign had received money from Odebrecht.

- Opposition alleges repression -

Maduro was elected in 2013 after the death of his late mentor and predecessor Hugo Chavez.

Venezuela has since descended into chaos that has raised fears for regional stability.

The fall in world prices for its oil exports has left it short of dollars for vital imports.

Maduro's critics accuse him of clinging to power through undemocratic means amid shortages of food and medicine.

Venezuela's center-right-led MUD opposition coalition accuses security forces of beating and killing protesters.

Clashes between protesters and police this year have left 125 people dead, according to prosecutors.

by Alexander MARTINEZ

© 2017 AFP