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Venezuela's Socialists stack top court with loyalists

Venezuela's ruling Socialists have stacked the Supreme Court with 34 new judges in the final days of their legislative majority. The opposition accuses the Socialists of seeking to curb the power of the new legislature.

In an extraordinary legislative session, Venezuela's Socialist party on Wednesday appointed 13 judges and 21 substitute judges to the nation's top court only weeks before a new government is to be sworn in.

Since suffering a thrashing at the polls to

the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD)

earlier this month, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has been pushing through appointments and bills that the opposition says seek to limit its power when it is inaugurated on January 5.

Venezuela Wahlen Nicolas Maduro

The court could play a key role in disputes between the legislature and President Maduro

"This is a null and void act by this moribund assembly," opposition lawmaker William Davila shouted in the chamber before leaving the swearing in ceremony, which was boycotted by the opposition.

National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello said the appointments were in line with the constitution, but the opposition said an absence of a two-thirds majority made the appointments illegal.

Blocking reforms

The

opposition won 112 of 167 seats in the National Assembly

in elections earlier this month, but will still have to contend with Socialist President Nicolas Maduro until his term expires in 2019.

Maduro has dubbed the election results

a "coup" to roll back the late Hugo Chavez's "revolution,"

as the oil-rich Latin American country faces continued economic turmoil.

The opposition has promised amnesty for political prisoners and economic reforms.

The 32 justices on the Supreme Court hold the power to veto laws passed by the National Assembly, as well as open criminal proceedings against politicians. They are appointed for 12-year terms.

The opposition accuses the Socialists of forcing the retirement and resignation of 34 members of the high court earlier this year in order to stack court with loyalists able to block legislation. The Socialists deny the charges.

cw/gsw (AFP, AP Reuters)

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