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    Venezuela’s new assembly ousts attorney general

    Attorney general Luisa Ortega (center) is driven away after being kept out of her office in Caracas by the National Guard.
    RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
    Attorney general Luisa Ortega (center) is driven away after being kept out of her office in Caracas by the National Guard.

    BOGOTA — Venezuela’s new governing assembly moved swiftly Saturday to consolidate power, removing the country’s dissident attorney general from her post and replacing her with a close ally of the president who was sanctioned by the United States for failing to protect protesters from human rights abuses.

    “We have asked that she not only be suspended, but removed from her position,” said Diosdado Cabello, a powerful leftist politician who sits on the assembly, referring to the dismissed official, Luisa Ortega. “It was approved unanimously.”

    For months, Ortega has been one of the most vocal critics of President Nicolás Maduro from within his own political party.

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    In March, she condemned an attempt by the courts to dissolve the country’s legislature, and she has since said that Maduro’s crackdown against protesters has gone too far this year, saying it could constitute crimes against humanity.

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    On July 30, Maduro held a contentious election to secure control over the country. In the vote, Venezuelans were asked to choose delegates from a list of allies in the governing party who would rewrite the constitution and rule the nation while they did so. Voters were not given the option of rejecting the plan.

    Ortega had called the vote illegal and tried to use her office to block the assembly’s members from being seated. And after a software company that set up voting systems for the government said the tally had been manipulated by at least 1 million votes, Ortega said she was opening an investigation.

    After the vote removing her from her post, Ortega said she will not recognize the assembly’s decision and will continue fighting injustices committed by the government ‘‘with my last breath.’’

    Ortega said the action against her should sound alarms in Venezuela and around the world over the lengths to which Maduro’s government is willing to go to carry out a ‘‘coup’’ against the constitution.

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    She called it ‘‘just a tiny example of what’s coming for everyone that dares to oppose this totalitarian form of ruling.’’

    Saturday’s drama began in front of Ortega’s office as members of the National Guard carrying rifles and shields surrounded her headquarters in the capital, Caracas. She took to Twitter to call the events a “siege.”

    Around midmorning, Ortega tried to enter the building but was blocked by members of the security forces. Video posted on social media sites showed the attorney general looking forlorn while retreating from the area, sandwiched between two men on a motorbike.

    “We must continue to fight for freedom and democracy in Venezuela,” she said at a news conference afterward. “This country has lost its freedom.”

    Cabello, speaking on state television on behalf of the new constituent assembly, said Ortega would be replaced by Tarek William Saab, a close deputy of Maduro’s who has served as the president’s top human rights official.

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    Saab has been criticized by members of the opposition for defending the government’s tough sentences for political prisoners.

    In the days before the vote, the US Treasury Department sanctioned Saab for failing to protect protesters from abuses by members of the security forces during demonstrations.

    “As the ‘People’s Defender,’ it is ostensibly his role to stand up for human rights in Venezuela,” the Treasury statement said.

    But he and other government officials had been involved in the “undermining of democracy, as well as the government’s rampant violence against opposition protesters and its corruption,” the statement said.

    The sanctions were imposed on 13 current or former senior Venezuelan officials.

    Maduro on Saturday accused Washington and its regional allies of a campaign of lies against his country in order to appropriate the world’s largest oil reserves, the Associated Press reported.

    ‘‘They come walking down the middle of the street barking orders, treating rulers like their maids,’’ he said, suggesting that their ultimate goal is ‘‘our immense petroleum wealth.’’

    Maduro’s comments appeared to be a response to President Trump’s threat to impose economic sanctions on Venezuela after the special assemblywas installed Friday.

    Maduro spoke in an interview with Radio Rebelde of Argentina, shortly before the assembly ordered the removal of Ortega.

    For years, Oretega backed Maduro, including legal action against leading dissident Leopoldo Lopez, who was jailed in 2014. She broke with the government, however, after increasing human rights and democratic abuses. She has said that her daughter and grandson were kidnapped and held for three days in what she considered to be government pressure tactics.