(AFP) – Aug 29, 2009
CARACAS — Venezuela's top prosecutor said Saturday that recent street protests were legally tantamount to "rebellion" against President Hugo Chavez's government and that demonstrators will now be charged.
The dramatic move by Attorney General Luisa Ortega capped a week of huge street protests, mostly directed against a new education law that critics say is politically charged.
"People who disturb order and the peace to create instability of institutions, to destabilize the government, or attack the democratic system, we are going to charge and try them," Ortega said in a statement, referring to the government of leftist-populist Chavez.
William Ojeda, of the opposition A New Time party, argued that "the very right to protest is being turned into a crime."
"The justice system is now being used as a tool of political and ideological persecution," Ojeda added.
Ortega claimed opposition groups were looking for "any reason to march, to create chaos, whatever they can, what they want is to destabilize, even by encouraging people to disobey the law."
Last Saturday, thousands of marchers protested against the education law and police used tear gas to break up the crowds and keep them from marching on the National Assembly.
"These precise actions are in effect criminal civil rebellion," Ortega stressed, warning in her statement that the crime carries sentences of between 12 and 24 years.
"I want those people who have risen up against the government with a hostile attitude against a legally formed government to know what the consequences are," Ortega warned.
Earlier in the week, 11 workers with the Caracas mayor's office, led by opposition Mayor Antonio Ledezma, were jailed for resisting authority.
On Thursday, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro accused the United States of seeking to "eliminate" Venezuela's leftist government and amass power in South America through a controversial deal allowing it access to military bases in Colombia.
Castro said the real US objective in Colombia was to "eliminate the revolutionary process" begun by Chavez, a key Cuban ally, and to "gain control of the oil and other natural resources in Venezuela.
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