Venezuela's newly installed all-powerful assembly has voted unanimously to oust the chief prosecutor, one of President Nicolas Maduro's most vocal critics. She has been replaced with a staunch government loyalist.
The controversial assembly used its first working session on Saturday to remove chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega from office and order her to go on trial.
Assembly delegates later on Saturday swore in the Human Rights Ombudsman, Tarek William Saab - who was recently attacked by the US for failing to protect protesters from abuses - as Ortega's replacement.
The move comes as newly elected members of the assembly pledged to move swiftly against Maduro's opponents.
Ahead of the decision, Ortega posted photos to Twitter showing dozens of troops from the Venezuelan military surrounding her Caracas headquarters, preventing her from entering, in what she described as a military "siege."
"I denounce this arbitrary act before the national and international community," Ortega wrote.
"You didn't see how they manhandled me, how they attacked me with shields," she told reporters outside the building.
As the vote was taking place in the Legislative Palace in Caracas, pro-government delegates shouted "traitor" and "justice has arrived!" Ortega's sacking was widely expected, with members of the all-powerful body indicating it would be their first order of business.
The constituent assembly, which was officially installed on Friday, is tasked with rewriting the country's constitution. Maduro has said it will also strip opposition lawmakers of their constitutional immunity from prosecution. Government critics fear the Venezuelan leader is only seeking to use the assembly to tighten his grip on power and crack down on dissent.
Venezuela suspended from Mercosur
Meanwhile, the South American trade bloc Mercosur on Saturday decided to suspend Venezuela indefinitely in a bid to pressure Maduro to restore democracy and dissolve the newly created assembly.
"We are saying: Stop with this! Enough with the deaths, enough with the repression. It is not possible to inflict such torture to the people," Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Ferreira said after the gathering in Sao Paulo.
Caracas was previously suspended in December for failing to uphold commitments it made when it joined the bloc in 2012.
More than 120 people have been killed and dozens of activists have been jailed during anti-government demonstrations over the past four months.
National constituent assembly members, including the body's President Delcy Rodriguez (in red), meet in Caracas
Opposition calls for mobilization
The head of the opposition-controlled congress pleade for opponents of Maduro to stay mobilized on the streets. "What we're seeing in Venezuela is the complete abduction of all its institutions by a single hand, a single political party," Julio Borges, president of the opposition-controlled congress, told journalists after Ortega's firing.
The country's institutions have been "completely taken hostage" by Maduro and his party, the opposition said later on Saturday. "One hand, one political party" has taken total control through "an undemocratic mechanism that is utterly dictatorial," the leader of the opposition-controlled legislature, Julio Borges, told reporters.
The constituent assembly has unlimited powers to dissolve the country's legislature, the National Assembly, and amend laws, in addition to its task of rewriting the 1999 constitution brought in under late President Hugo Chavez. Maduro says the new constitution will end Venezuela's political and economic crisis, though he gave no details on how these ends would be attained.
The opposition has refused to recognize the new body, which includes Maduro's wife and son among its more than 500 members and is composed largely of presidential loyalists.
Ex-prosecutor Ortega, a former government ally, has become one of Maduro's harshest critics. Earlier in the week, she announced she would open an investigation into irregularities in Sunday's controversial election to form the assembly. She also submitted a court claim seeking have the body suspended.
nm/tj (AP, AFP Reuters, dpa)