Venezuela high court blocks legislature's bills

Venezuela high court blocks legislature's bills

Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela's Supreme Court has ruled the opposition-controlled legislature's bills are "null and void" because it swore in three lawmakers accused of electoral fraud.

The decision, issued last Friday and published Tuesday, is the latest showdown between the National Assembly and the court, which the opposition accuses of blatant bias in favor of leftist President Nicolas Maduro.

The case dates back to legislative elections in December, which the opposition won in a landslide amid an economic crisis marked by severe shortages of food and basic goods.

The court barred the three opposition lawmakers pending an investigation of fraud allegations. The opposition condemned the case as an excuse to strip it of its powerful two-thirds majority.

Ignoring the court, opposition leaders swore in the lawmakers on July 28, saying there had been no signs of progress in the fraud investigation.

The court fired back by declaring the legislative majority in contempt.

Its latest ruling goes a step further.

"The acts issued by the National Assembly, including any bills passed, are manifestly unconstitutional and absolutely null and void as long as (the opposition bench) is in contempt," it said.

The Supreme Court has blocked most of the legislature's bills since the opposition took control, ending 17 years of dominance by the left.

Tension has been mounting between Maduro and the opposition, which staged massive protests last week calling for a referendum on removing the unpopular president from power.

More protests and counter-demonstrations by Maduro supporters are scheduled for Wednesday.

Maduro, who accuses the opposition of plotting a coup, has threatened to lift lawmakers' legislative immunity.

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