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Venezuela Supreme Court orders takeover of 2 major political parties

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s Supreme Court, loyal to President Nicolás Maduro, on Tuesday ordered the takeover of two of the nation’s most powerful political parties opposed to the socialist government ahead of parliamentary elections expected this year.

The court suspended and replaced the board of directors for the Justice First party a day after the same move against the Democratic Action party, one of the nation’s oldest and largest. It was part of a “necessary restructuring process,” the court said in separate rulings posted on Facebook.

Maduro on state TV accused opposition parties, which have controlled the National Assembly for the last five years, of robbing Venezuela of its wealth and plotting a foreign invasion aimed at ending his socialist government.

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The National Assembly is the only branch of government Maduro doesn’t control. That will change with the next election, he said.

“People of Venezuela, the hour is drawing near, the day is drawing near, the moment is drawing near,” Maduro said. “With the popular vote we are going to remove them from the National Assembly. We are going to take them out.”

A once-wealthy oil nation, Venezuela is in a deepening political and economic crisis after two decades of socialist rule that has driven mass migration and scarcities of basic goods. The U.S. and scores of other nations consider Maduro’s government illegitimate and recognize congressional leader Juan Guaidó as interim president.

Henrique Capriles led Justice First in 2012 when he lost the presidency race to Hugo Chávez and again the next year after Chávez’s death in a contest against Maduro. Officials then banned Capriles from politics for 15 years, although he remains an important player behind the scenes.

Justice First is also the party of influential politicians Julio Borges, who lives in exile in Colombia. Leopoldo López, who remains in Caracas but holed up at a foreign ambassador’s residence, helped founded the party before then launching Popular Will.

Henry Ramos Allup, the leader of Democratic Action, said he would not abide by the court’s ruling. A political ally of Guaidó, Allup accused Maduro of “hijacking” the party.

“Democratic Action is going to resist these acts of shamelessness,” Allup said.

The court days earlier seated a new elections council ahead of a vote expected this year in a battle for control of the National Assembly.

The unilateral appointments to the council were especially disheartening to some moderate opponents of Maduro who had been trying to reach an accord with the government for minimal guarantees for a free and fair vote.

The new National Electoral Council includes names of members of Democratic Action, who Allup said he does not recognize.

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Democratic Action, which was formed in the 1930s, is among Venezuela’s four most powerful opposition parties. They also include Guaidó’s Popular Will along with Justice First and A New Time.

Officials have not set a date for the election, which is required this year by the nation’s constitution. Allup accused Maduro’s government of acting in bad faith.

“It’s a new maneuver by the regime, a new assault in an attempt to give a hint of credibility to the electoral farce that it’s planning to carry out this year to supposedly elect a new National Assembly,” said Allup, vowing not to participate in any “fraudulent elections.”