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South America Venezuela condemns ICC probe

VENEZUELA hit back last night after the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a probe and the European Parliament voted for new sanctions.

Venezuelan security officials may soon have the dubious distinction of being the first non-Africans to face proceedings at the court in The Hague following yesterday’s announcement by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

A Venezuelan Foreign Ministry statement condemned the decision, saying it had come as a surprise with no previous official communication from Ms Bensouda.

The prosecutor said the preliminary investigation would look into claims by the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition that the security forces had "frequently used excessive force to disperse and put down demonstrations" last year and abused some detained opposition members.

Starting last April, four months of violence by opposition supporters seeking to topple the elected government left 124 people dead, including several burned alive on the mere suspicion of being government supporters.

The Venezuelan statement stressed that the Rome Statute founding the court defined its jurisdiction as “complementary” to those of member nations and limited to investigating cases that national courts refuse to hear — which it said was not the case in Venezuela.

Caracas thus argued that Ms Bensouda’s “preliminary investigation” had no basis in the statute, calling it an “inquisition-style process” which set up a perpetual “infamous media blackmail” against member states.

Yesterday’s European Parliament resolution on Venezuela, moved by members of the conservative European People’s Party group and passed by 480 votes to 51, included a demand for an ICC probe of the alleged security force abuses.

The motion also extended existing sanctions on Venezuelan officials — mirroring those imposed by the US — to President Nicolas Maduro and armed forces commanders.

Among other alleged government abuses, the text claimed that Venezuelan police helicopter pilot Oscar Perez and six of his cohorts had been “extrajudicially executed despite the fact that they had already surrendered” last month.

Mr Perez hijacked a police helicopter last June and attacked the Supreme Justice Tribunal building with grenades and rifle fire.

His gang killed two police officers and the leader of a local pro-Maduro “collective” when they tried to negotiate the group’s surrender during an armed siege.

The resolution came after Mud representatives in talks with the government in the Dominican Republic refused to sign an agreement on April’s presidential elections.

National Electoral Council president Tibisay Lucena announced the election would go ahead regardless on April 22.

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