Venezuela’s Maduro defends rule as legitimate

CARACAS (AFP) – Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro defended his government’s legitimacy last Sunday as his bid for a second six-year term has come under growing fire internationally and by the country’s opposition-controlled National Assembly.

But in another sign of turmoil around Maduro, who is to be sworn in on Thursday, a Supreme Court judge and former ally appeared on US television to denounce last year’s election, having fled the country.

“I have decided to leave Venezuela … to disavow the government of Nicolas Maduro,” Christian Zerpa, who sat on a panel that deals with electoral issues, told EVTV Miami.

“It was not a free election, it was not a competitive election,” he said of last year’s vote, going on to accuse Maduro of manipulating the court.

News of the Zerpa’s defection came a day after the opposition-controlled National Assembly declared Maduro’s presidency to be illegitimate and called for a transitional government to organise democratic elections.

Responding on Twitter, Maduro declared: “Legitimacy has been given us by the people with their vote. To those who hope to break our will, make no mistake. Venezuela will be respected!”

Maduro was re-elected May 20 last year in presidential elections called by a regime-backed Constituent Assembly and boycotted by the opposition, many of whose best-known leaders were under house arrest or barred from running.