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Venezuela's Supreme Court in showdown with top prosecutor

The high court wants to strip the chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Diaz, of her immunity from prosecution. Ortega slammed the court and the charges against her, calling it "a circus."

A battle between President Nicholas Maduro's compliant Supreme Court and the state's dissident chief prosecutor is heading for a showdown after the court began considering lifting her immunity from prosecution to try her for unspecified irregularities.

The prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Diaz (above), announced she would boycott the high court's hearing.

"I am not going to validate a circus that will stain our history with shame and pain," she said at a news conference as the hearing was getting underway.

 

The allegations against her center around alleged "serious errors" while in office. The charges were brought by a ruling-party lawmaker and could lead to her ouster.

National Guard troops and riot police were positioned outside the court house in Caracas, where protests against Maduro's government have become an almost daily event in recent months.

The government-stacked Supreme Court acted to strip a key power from Ortega by imposing her deputy: a Maduro loyalist who was sanctioned by the United States two years ago for her role in prosecuting some of the president's most vocal critics.

The decision to name Katherine Haringhton to the post effectively makes her Venezuela's No. 2 law enforcement official even though the constitution says the chief prosecutor has the power to name her own deputy, with confirmation by congress.

On Monday lawmakers re-confirmed Ortega's own choice as deputy after he was removed by the high court last week.

The most-feared critic

Watch video 01:58

Venezuela: Court strips parliament of powers

Ortega has emerged as Maduro's most-feared critic amid the country's deepening political crisis. Until April she was a loyal leftist, but broke rank with Maduro's regime after it stripped congress of its remaining powers.

"We already know they're going to remove me today," said Ortega in a speech at her office.

She slammed what she said was a "spurious" case designed to silence her.

"They've frozen my bank account, they've frozen my assets, and they've banned me from leaving the country. It appears that defending the constitution constitutes a crime," she said, waving a small blue book of the charter written under Maduro's predecessor and mentor, the late Hugo Chavez, in 1999.

Ortega now joins with right-wing opponents in blasting Maduro's plans to rewrite the constitution.

The Supreme Court has also undermined Ortega's authority by dismissing her order for the former head of the National Guard to testify about alleged human rights abuses during the government crackdown on the protests, which have killed least 80 people.

The near daily assault has only emboldened Ortega, who was warmly received Monday during an address by opposition lawmakers who until a few months ago considered her Maduro's jailer.

The high court said it would issue a ruling within five days.

bik/bw (AP, Reuters)

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