Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela's government is considering asking the high court to dissolve the legislature controlled by President Nicolas Maduro's opponents who are seeking to remove him from office, a spokesman said Tuesday.
It was the latest maneuver in a political conflict that has raised tensions in the volatile South American country as it struggles with an economic crisis.
Maduro's side "has started discussions to request a consultation with the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court" with a view to achieving "the abolition of this National Assembly," ruling coalition spokesman Didalco Bolivar told a news conference.
The opposition blames Maduro for a deep economic crisis that has caused widespread food shortages and deadly looting.
It has launched efforts to remove him since taking control of the assembly in January. Maduro has challenged them through the Supreme Court, which his rivals say he controls.
Bolivar said the government in its latest action would charge the opposition lawmakers with abuse of power, treason and breach of the constitution.
The political standoff between the president and the assembly has heightened tensions in the oil-producing nation.
- Coup, fraud -
Maduro's opponents in the centrist MUD coalition are pushing for a referendum this year on whether to cut short his term.
The government on Monday launched a counter-maneuver, announcing fresh legal challenges against a petition filed by the opposition calling for a referendum.
The opposition is rushing to complete the recall process by January 10, the cutoff date to trigger new elections.
After that date, a successful recall vote would simply pass power to Maduro's hand-picked vice president.
The national electoral board has said it will announce by July 26 whether enough signatures on the petition have been authenticated for the referendum drive to proceed.
If that happens, Maduro's opponents will have to collect four million more signatures to call a full referendum.
"We now call for this process to advance unobstructed, with respect for the constitutional principle of swiftness," MUD general secretary Jesus Torrealba told a news conference on Tuesday.
Maduro on Sunday called the collection of opposition signatures a "giant electoral fraud."
The opposition leader of congress, Henry Ramos, said that if Maduro blocked the referendum, that would amount to a "coup d'etat."
Bolivar said the government in its new legal action would also demand "that legislative elections be called so that the people can say whether they want this obstructionist and constitution-violating assembly to be in charge, or the contrary."
He said the governing coalition would make an announcement on its planned lawsuit next week.