Controversial assembly begins in Venezuela

Venezuelan leader defiant as US imposes sanctions on him

Despite substantial turnout, the Trump administration has so far refused to recognize the elections, and imposed sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in response.

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.

Ortega said at the time that the move was unconstitutional.

"I can inform you that my office has been taken by public security forces, including national guards and policemen, between 400 and 500" troops, she said. "We don't know how he is", she tweeted on Thursday.

The Vatican called for a "negotiated solution" that would provide humanitarian aid, fair elections and the release of political prisoners, and it appealed for an end to the violence that has plagued the country.

Former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez has delivered a stern warning to government opponents in her first remarks as head of the special assembly rewriting Venezuela's constitution. On Saturday, that appeared to be already unfolding.

Maduro allies have said one of the body's first tasks will be to target Ortega.

She accuses authorities of trying to hide corruption and human rights violations. Treating Maduro like the outlaw that he is would certainly be a start.

For years, she backed Maduro, including legal action against leading dissident Leopoldo Lopez, who was jailed in 2014. Maduro's who has served as the president's top human rights official.

Her daughter and grandson were kidnapped from their homes, while Ms Ortega was in Brazil for a conference - her daughter freed two days later, and her grandson after three.

It will have sweeping powers to upend institutions and in theory could even remove Maduro, a fact held up by government supporters as a sign of its independence from the government. She told reporters on Saturday that Maduro wanted to halt her probe into alleged bribes paid by the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht SA to government officials.

The Holy See asked specifically that political and governmental agents "avoid or suspend ongoing initiatives such as the new constitutional assembly which, instead of fostering peace and reconciliation, foments a climate of tension and conflict and mortgages the future". "Together, in the defense of the constitution and democracy, we will overcome the dictatorship". "The government of Venezuela must stop systematically detaining protesters and end the growing use of military tribunals to try civilians", the group of five experts said in a statement.

Ortega said she was in Maracay, a city 75 miles west of Caracas, when she heard the news. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap and flour, have meant that while they are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates. "This is a kidnapping".

Ortega filed the request for an investigation in a lower court, after earlier filing complaints about the constitutionality of the new assembly with the nation's Supreme Court.

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