Venezuela's Supreme Court limits assembly's oversight powers

The Supreme Court ruling took away the National Assembly's power to remove justices (AFP Photo/Federico Parra)

Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela's Supreme Court stripped the opposition-led legislature of key oversight powers to try to thwart moves to change the makeup of the high court itself.

The opposition, which is seeking a legal means to oust President Nicolas Maduro, accuses him of packing the court with allies to bolster his embattled leftist government.

The Supreme Court ruling took away the National Assembly's power to remove justices, and declared unconstitutional its members' review of the lame duck appointments of 34 judges to the Supreme Court.

Pro-government legislators approved the mass appointments in December days before relinquishing control of the assembly to the opposition, which won legislative elections by a landslide earlier that month.

The Supreme Court's constitutional panel ruled that the National Assembly's oversight role is limited to the executive, and does not extend to the courts or the country's electoral bodies.

Political control "extends fundamentally to the national executive power and not to the rest of the public powers," the ruling said.

The National Assembly had been scheduled to open debate Tuesday on a committee report calling for the newly-appointed judges' removal.

But National Assembly Speaker Henry Ramos Allup accused the government of using the national justice system to render the legislature powerless.

The legislature's responsiblities "cannot be ordered to cease to exist by repeated Supreme Court orders that are patently unconstitutional," he said.