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Venezuela's attorney general is ousted by new assembly and replaced with a Maduro loyalist

In a unanimous vote, Venezuela’s newly installed constitutional assembly fired Atty. Gen. Luisa Ortega Diaz during its first official session on Saturday.

Ortega has criticized President Nicolas Maduro in recent weeks for calling the assembly, which she said was illegal.

In a letter to assembly president Delcy Rodriguez after the 545-0 vote, Venezuela’s Supreme Court said it also has disqualified Ortega from holding any public office for an indefinite period and prohibited her from leaving the country, opening the way to her prosecution on charges of unspecified “crimes.”

Ortega will be replaced as attorney general by Tarek William Saab, a Maduro loyalist, said assembly vice president Diosdado Cabello to reporters outside the Federal Palace where the vote took place. During the vote, some members shouted “traitor” and “justice” in reference to Ortega.

“I propose that Luisa Ortega Diaz be removed from her duties, not suspended,” Cabello said during the session prior to the vote.

Since Friday morning, police have restricted entry to the Public Ministry, where Ortega kept her offices. When Ortega arrived for work Saturday morning, she was barred from entering. She told TV reporters at the scene that she had been pushed and struck by police when she tried to enter.

“The government is trying to hide proof of Oderbrecht, proof of corruption and the violation of human rights,” Ortega told reporters before leaving on the back of a motorcycle. “This is a dictatorship, what we are living in Venezuela. They arrest people arbitrarily, try them with military justice and now they are stopping the attorney general from entering [her] office.”

The reference to Oderbrecht, a Brazilian construction company, was in regard to alleged bribes paid to government officials in exchange for preferential contracts.

Earlier, Ortega had accused the government over her social media account of mounting a “siege” of her office and included photos of a dozen police in riot gear standing sentry at the building.

Late Friday, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an arm of the Organization of American States, issued a statement demanding that the Maduro government guarantee “the physical well-being” of Ortega.

Maduro has described his convening of a new constitutional assembly as necessary to reestablish order in a country rocked by four months of protests that have left 130 dead and thousands injured and arrested. But critics say its true purpose is to circumvent the democratically elected and opposition-controlled National Assembly.

Once a fierce loyalist of late President Hugo Chavez, Ortega has become Maduro’s most prominent critic within the government, criticizing the assembly as illegitimate. The current 1999 constitution stipulates that any new constitution must first be authorized by the public in a nationwide referendum. Maduro called the new assembly on his own.

It remains to be seen whether Maduro will have Ortega arrested and on what charges. In speeches leading up to the election of assembly delegates on July 30, a vote that was boycotted by his opponents, Maduro said dissidents would be punished with possible jail terms.

In a speech to new assembly delegates at a swearing-in ceremony on Friday, Delcy Rodriguez told “fascist” opponents of Maduro that “justice is coming.”

Maduro warned the opposition that the new constitution would mean National Assembly members would lose their immunity from prosecution. He has singled out opposition legislator and former student leader Freddy Guevara as among the first he would have arrested.

Several governments in the region, including those of Colombia, Mexico and Peru, have criticized the new constitutional assembly as anti-democratic.

They were joined on Saturday by Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil, which suspended Venezuela from the Mercosur trading block for “rupture of democratic order.”

“The suspension of Venezuela was applied due to the actions of the Nicolas Maduro government and is a call for the immediate start of a process of political transition and restoration of democratic order,” according to a statement issued in Sao Paulo, where foreign ministers of the four countries met on Saturday.

Special correspondents Mogollon and Kraul reported from Caracas and Bogota, Colombia respectively.

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UPDATES:

11:40 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with Times staff reporting.

9:10 a.m.: This article was updated with the ouster of Atty. Gen. Luisa Ortega Diaz.

This article was originally published at 8:50 a.m.

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