VENEZUELA’S’s newly elected constitutional reform body was set to convene “within hours” after Washington mooted President Nicolas Maduro’s overthrow on Tuesday.
National TV carried the announcement by Vice-President Tareck El Aissami, who chairs the counter-terrorism task force against opposition regime-change violence that has left more than 120 dead in four months.
Mr Aissami said the results of Sunday’s election to the national constituent assembly, which was boycotted by the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (Mud) coalition, had been validated and the 545 delegates would soon meet.
And he condemned personal sanctions against Mr Maduro announced by the US on Monday — with the threat of the same against the new assembly’s delegates if they take their seats.
“We are not in colonial times, we are in the times of free and sovereign peoples,” Mr Aissami said.
“The constituent assembly, elected by more than eight million Venezuelans, is the starting point for the recognition and gathering of the country’s sectors.” He said the body would “propel the transformation necessary to forge the future Venezuela.”
Defence Minister General Vladimir Padrino Lopez said the armed forces “ratifies its unconditional support and loyalty to our commander in chief and reiterates its historic commitment to defend national sovereignty and independence.”
He added: “We ask for respect for these Venezuelans, because by imposing sanctions on President Nicolas Maduro, they are imposing sanctions against the more than eight million Venezuelans who went out to vote against all odds.”
Yesterday Smartmatic CEO Antonio Mugica, whose firm ran Sunday’s election, claimed at a press conference in London that the election results were “tampered with.” He said that although his company had recorded the true number of ballots cast, a full audit would be necessary before he could provide the figure.
Asked why Smartmatic spoke to the media before the Venezuelan government, he said: “I guess we probably thought that the authorities would not be sympathetic to what we had to say.”
Venezuela has used electronic voting machines for more than a decade.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday that Washington was evaluating how to “create a change of conditions where either Maduro decides he doesn’t have a future and wants to leave of his own accord or we can return the government processes back to their constitution.”
Meanwhile the Supreme Justice Tribunal, Venezuela’s highest court, said it had ordered the jailing of opposition party leaders Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma — previously under house arrest — in the small hours of Tuesday after being alerted to their plans to flee. The judges said that Mr Lopez and Mr Ledezma had also violated the terms of their house arrest which forbade making public political statements.
Mr Ledezma was arrested in February 2015 for plotting a coup against the government, while Mr Lopez was convicted in September that year of inciting the 2014 “guarimba” riots that left 43 dead.
Meanwhile Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz said that two unofficial Supreme Justice Tribunal judges appointed by the Mud-controlled parliament last month, Beatriz Ruiz and Jose Fernando Nunez, had been offered asylum after taking refuge at the ambassador’s residence.