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Venezuela prosecutor moves to silence popular opposition leader

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's chief prosecutor yesterday asked the country's top court to ban opposition leader Juan Guaido from leaving the country, launching a criminal probe into his anti-government activities while international pressure builds against President Nicolas Maduro.

Attorney General Tarek William Saab made his request to the government-stacked Supreme Court, and also asked it to block Guaido's financial accounts.

Saab didn't specify what crimes Guaido is being investigated for, but said the probe is tied to unrest sparked by his decision to declare himself interim president last week in a direct challenge to Maduro's authority.

Guaido said outside the National Assembly building that he's aware of personal risks, but added, “Venezuela is set on change, and the world is clearly conscious of what's happening”.

“I don't underestimate the threat of persecution at the moment,” he added, “but here we are.”

While rights monitors say hundreds of demonstrators have been arrested in recent days, Guaido has so far avoided arrest, while making occasional and brief public appearances. US National Security Adviser John Bolton has warned that any harm to Guaido or the National Assembly he presides over would be considered a “grave assault” and be met with a “significant response”, without specifying what.

Opening a case against Guaido comes as international pressure mounts against Maduro's Government from the United States, which earlier in the day handed control over Venezuela's US bank accounts to Guaido. Russia announced it expects Venezuela to have problems paying its debts.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certified that Guaido, the congressional leader who has declared himself interim president, has authority to take control of bank accounts that Venezuela's Government has in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or any other US-insured banks.

Pompeo said the certification will “help Venezuela's legitimate Government safeguard those assets for the benefit of the Venezuelan people.”

Guaido has been recognised as the nation's rightful leader by two dozen nations that contend the re-election of socialist President Nicolas Maduro was a sham, in part because his strongest opponents were barred from running.

Violent street demonstrations erupted last week when Guaido, during a massive opposition rally in Caracas, declared that he had assumed presidential powers and planned to hold fresh elections, ending Maduro's “dictatorship”.

The United States, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and Paraguay have officially acknowledged Guaido as the legitimate interim head of Venezuela, while countries including Russia and China back Maduro.