In power struggle, Venezuela's high court declares parliament in contempt

Venezuela’s supreme court ruled Monday that the newly installed National Assembly is in contempt of court for swearing in three ineligible legislators, and has declared any laws and other actions the body takes to be null and void.

The ruling sets the scene for a clash between the court, dominated by judges appointed by socialist President Nicolas Maduro, and the assembly, two-thirds of whose seats were won by opposition candidates in Dec. 6 elections.

The court on Dec. 30 ruled the three newly elected opposition assembly members, Julio Ygarza, Romel Guzamana and Nirma Guarulla, were ineligible because of vote-buying accusations. All three are from the southern state of Amazonas.

The opposition countered that the ruling amounted to a “judicial coup” designed to deprive the opposition of a supermajority and the special powers that go along with it. It noted that the disputed assembly seats had been officially awarded to the three within days of the Dec. 6 elections and that reports of vote-buying emerged afterward and were unfounded.

On Jan. 6, assembly President Henry Ramos Allup administered the oath of office to the three disputed lawmakers, a day after the other members were sworn in. The new legislators will serve five-year terms.

Maduro allies in the congress then asked that the court disqualify the assembly as constituted, a motion the court on Monday accepted, ordering that the three be stripped of their parliamentary membership.

The disqualification of all assembly acts would be lifted once the three disputed assembly members are stripped of their seats, according to the ruling.

There was no immediate reaction by opposition assembly members that was made public late Monday afternoon.

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

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