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Venezuela court blocks release of activists

Venezuela's top court has struck down an amnesty law passed by lawmakers to free self-styled "political prisoners." The opposition had promised to free jailed activists after its victory in congressional polls.

Venezuela's Supreme Court struck down an amnesty law Monday that was

approved last month by the opposition-dominated Congress.

The move effectively scuttles an effort by critics of President Nicolas Maduro to secure the release of jailed opposition activists.

Among the jailed who would have been freed is

Leopoldo Lopez,

who led the 2014 anti-government protests. He is serving a nearly 14-year sentence after being convicted of provoking violence during demonstrations.

Activism leaders incarcerated

Leopoldo Lopez

Opposition activist Leopoldo Lopez was sentenced to 14 years in September on charges of inciting violence at anti-government protests

But the court's constitutional chamber ruled that the law violated constitutional principles because it promoted impunity and offered amnesty for crimes that were not eligible for such treatment.

"This impunity law cannot pass," Maduro, who

had vowed to veto it,

said in a televised broadcast minutes before the court's decision was released. "If we want peace, that law cannot pass."

The president has repeatedly

had the backing of the top court

in his disputes with the legislature following

the opposition's landslide victory in December polls,

which gave it a two-thirds majority of seats.

The poltiical opposition meanwhile accuses Maduro of using allies in the courts to run roughshod over the assembly, noting that ruling Socialist Party legislators used lame-duck sessions late last year to name party militants to the bench.

"The autonomy of the legislative branch is not up for discussion, and for that reason (#Amnestyislaw)," wrote the National Assembly's leadership via its Twitter account. The tweet included a link to a petition demanding the law's enactment.

Opposition lawmakers had promised to free jailed activists after their electoral victory in December's congressional elections.

jar/rc (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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