Venezuela restores opposition leader Ledezma's house arrest - wife

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"To attach the term democracy to Venezuela with this new constituent assembly is on very weak ground". It cited Smartmatic's accusation, which President Nicolas Maduro and his government's elections council have denied. Opposition lawmakers in congress have vowed they will only be removed by force. "We shall start to act as of tomorrow".

"For those who preach violence, to the fascists, to those who wage an economic war against people. justice will come to them", Rodriguez told the new assembly inside the legislative palace in Caracas.

The dissident group said Friday's protest was being held "to defend the constitution".

"The preliminary investigation points toward the alleged commission of crimes by functionaries of the National Elections Council (CNE), and other people linked to the council", the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

But the opposition is struggling to regain its footing in the face of the government's strong-armed tactics and the re-emergence of old, internal divisions.

It comes only four days after opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and the former mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, were forcibly taken from their homes by security forces. As one of its first tasks, Maduro has ordered the assembly to declare Ortega Diaz's office in a state of emergency and entirely restructure it. "With your bodies as your shield, you have defended the right to peace". An increasing number of foreign governments have refused to recognize the assembly and many within Venezuela fear it will create a one-party state.

The Vatican statement expresses "profound concern for the radicalisation and worsening of the crisis", including the increase in deaths, injuries and arrests of protesters.

Venezuela has been racked by crisis for several months, with Maduro's regime placing opposition figureheads such as Ledezma under house arrest as protests rage across the country.

The opposition contends the vote was rigged to pack the assembly with supporters of Maduro. In the case of Venezuela, the bishops have been openly against the assembly.

It will have sweeping powers to upend institutions and in theory could even remove Maduro, a fact held up by government supporters as proof that it's not a partisan power grab. She filed the request for investigation in a lower court, after earlier filing complaints about the constitutionality of the new assembly with the nation's Supreme Court.

She also ordered prosecutors to investigate the allegations of election tampering raised by Antonio Mugica, the head of the voting technology firm Smartmatic. An independent poll suggested that fewer than 4 million people voted.

Pledges by opposition lawmakers to remain in power no matter what action the constituent assembly takes have opened the possibility of two governing bodies operating side by side - neither recognizing the other.

Goodman reported from Bogota, Colombia.

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