Venezuela's president delays launch of new assembly

Venezuela's president delays launch of new assembly

The gathering of the 545 delegates elected to rewrite Venezuela's constitution is setting the stage for a possible showdown between President Nicolas Maduro and the political opposition, which says the election was not fair.

One of the Venezuelan opposition leaders arrested earlier this week has been freed, it has emerged. "Tomorrow we start to act".

The leftist leader said the assembly would open "in peace and calm" at 11:00 am (1500 GMT) Friday.

"The preliminary investigation points toward the alleged commission of crimes by functionaries of the National Elections Council (CNE), and other people linked to the council", the prosecutor's office said in a statement. As one of its first tasks, Maduro has ordered the assembly to declare Ortega Diaz's office in a state of emergency and entirely restructure it. "I have nothing to fear", Maduro said, adding that the sanctions serve to highlight the impotence, desperation and hatred felt in Washington.

Amid the rising tensions, an increasing number of foreign governments have sided with the opposition, refusing to recognize the constitutional assembly and further isolating Maduro's government.

Venezuela has been racked by crisis for several months, with Maduro's regime placing opposition figureheads such as Ledezma under house arrest as protests rage across the country.

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The United States will not recognize Venezuela's new national constituent assembly, the State Department said on Thursday, calling it "the illegitimate product of a flawed process".

The Information Ministry referred Reuters to statements National Elections Council chief Tibisay Lucena made in response to Smartmatic's accusations on Wednesday, prior to the prosecutor's announcement.

In a continuing show of defiance, Ortega Diaz filed papers Thursday seeking a court order to block installation of the new assembly.

Some two weeks before, on the other hand, when the country came together to vote in a a symbolic referendum organized by the opposition to reject Maduro's attempts at re-writing the country's constitution, the bishops strongly supported the referendum, even though, legally speaking, it had no standing. The request, filed to a lower court in an apparent attempt to circumvent the government-stacked Supreme Court, was nearly certain to be denied.

She also ordered prosecutors to investigate the allegations of election tampering.

Voting technology firm Smartmatic, which provides the South American OPEC member country's voting machines, said on Wednesday the official turnout figure of 8.1 million votes in Sunday's election had been inflated by at least 1 million votes.

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