Venezuela restores opposition leader Ledezma’s house arrest

People hold portraits of opposition leader Antonio Ledezma during a news conference at the Venezuelan coalition of opposition parties (MUD) headquarters in Caracas, Venezuela August 1, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino Top News

Venezuela returned opposition leader Antonio Ledezma from prison to his home on Friday, hours before the government planned to inaugurate a new legislative superbody authorized to expand the powers of leftist President Nicolas Maduro. Ledezma and fellow opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez had been taken to prison from house arrest early on Tuesday after encouraging protests against the new constituent assembly, which will have the power to re-write the constitution and could allow Maduro to govern by decree.

The 545-member assembly was expected to hold its first session later in the day. The opposition, which boycotted the vote on the grounds that the creation of the assembly undermines basic democratic principles, is calling for protests against it. asking that Friday’s planned installation of the assembly be suspended and urged Venezuela’s security forces to avoid “excessive and disproportionate use of force” in dealing with protesters.

Governments from Spain to Canada to Argentina have spoken out against the assembly. Its election on Sunday prompted US President Donald Trump to label Maduro as a dictator. In a pre-dawn tweet, Ledezma’s wife said that her husband had just been brought to his residence.

“Several minutes ago, Antonio was unexpectedly returned by the Sebin (intelligence agency) to our home,” wrote Mitzy Capriles de Ledezma. “We thank the people of Venezuela and the international community for their concern and solidarity.”

It was not immediately evident whether Lopez would also be returned from jail to house arrest. Their supporters call them political prisoners. More than 120 people have meanwhile died in anti-Maduro protests over the last four months.

Among complaints against Maduro is his refusal to allow international aid to enter the country, which is in a deep recession and is suffering food and medicine shortages. The socialist leader says the assembly is needed to restore peace and prosperity to Venezuela. But the crisis shows no signs of abating. On Thursday Venezuela’s bolivar currency tumbled 18 percent in one day against the U.S. dollar on the black market.

The constituent assembly will have no checks on its power to re-arrange government institutions. Members elected to the new body have said they plan to fire Venezuelan Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega who this week opened an investigation into claims that the government inflated Sunday’s voter turnout numbers.

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