World

Venezuela chief prosecutor to face charges as crisis deepens

Venezuela's Supreme Court cleared the way for a trial against the country's chief prosecutor, who became a surprise hero to the opposition after breaking ranks with the government of President Nicolas Maduro over his efforts to concentrate power.

The government-stacked court in a statement Tuesday it had approved a request from a socialist party lawmaker to lift prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz's protection from prosecution for allegedly committing "grave errors" in her role as the nation's top law enforcement official.

Opponents of Maduro say Ortega Diaz is being targeted for her decision to break with the government over its plans to gut the opposition-controlled National Assembly and attempt to rewrite the constitution. In the past few weeks, as Ortega Diaz has pursued a number of legal actions seeking to block Maduro's power grab, government supporters have mounted a campaign to discredit her actions, alternately accusing her of being crazy or a spokeswoman for "right-wing terrorists."

Ortega remained defiant in the face of the high court's move, saying the ruling was an attack not against her but the very foundations of the Venezuela's democracy.

"Hanging over the country is a bleak outlook that could destroy the state," she told Union Radio.

The opposition, for whom Ortega Diaz was until recently a favorite punching bag, was quick to condemn the ruling.

At a press conference, the Democratic Unity alliance vowed to redouble its campaign of street protests seeking Maduro's removal that have left at least 70 people dead and hundreds injured or arrested. In its strongest rebuke yet of Maduro, it vowed to disavow all actions by the government as it called on Venezuelans to organize themselves in "committees to restore democracy" to block Maduro's plans for a July election to choose delegates to a constitutional assembly under rules that heavily favor the government.

"All Venezuelans need to stand up to rescue our nation's democracy," National Assembly President Julio Borges said in a press conference surrounded by top opposition leaders. He said in coming days the opposition would announce a number of actions building up toward one last permanent, national protest to thwart Maduro.

Ortega Diaz, whose agency is semi-autonomous, has emerged as one of the most critical voices of Maduro within the government. A long-time loyalist, she has denounced Maduro for betraying the legacy of Hugo Chavez, who crafted the nation's current constitution.

A former leftist student activist, she was named chief prosecutor in 2007 and reappointed to another six-year term in 2014. Under the current constitution which Maduro now wants to scuttle, she can only be removed by the National Assembly.

A defiant Ortega Diaz on Monday vowed to continue her fight and touched on what many believe is her strongest chip against the government: investigations into corruption by top officials.

"We have to begin demanding that they start providing the bills of where all this money is coming from that that they spend on stages and for the marches," Ortega Diaz said. "Maybe what they spend on stages would be better used buying medicine and food."