Wednesday, August 25, 1999 Published at 03:58 GMT 04:58 UK
Top Venezuelan judge resigns
Many fear the constitutional assembly is too powerful
The president of Venezuela's Supreme Court resigned on Tuesday, saying the court had "committed suicide" by caving in to a constitutional assembly controlled by supporters of President Hugo Chavez.
"The court simply committed suicide to avoid being assassinated. But the result is the same. It is dead," Ms Sosa said.
President Chavez, a former paratrooper who led a failed 1992 coup attempt, has declared the assembly the supreme power in Venezuela, and some Venezuelans fear it will be used to concentrate power in his hands.
The assembly's intended role is to rewrite the country's constitution, but President Chavez has encouraged it to take on wider powers.
"The last control on constitutionality and legality that existed in Venezuela has disappeared. Only the national constitutional assembly remains," Ms Sosa said.
Legislative emergency next?
Congress has gone into recess until October to avoid a confrontation with the assembly, which may declare a legislative emergency this week to match last week's judicial emergency.
The move could turn over most of Congress's functions to the assembly.
Chavez supporters say the assembly's hardline actions are aimed at forcing reforms which most Venezuelans agree are necessary but have been blocked for years by corrupt politicians and judicial authorities.
The assembly last Friday named a nine-member reform panel that includes a Supreme Court justice, a top prisons expert, a former planning minister and a human rights lawyer.
Under the judicial emergency now in force, the assembly could suspend or dismiss nearly half of Venezuela's judges because of pending accusations of corruption or other irregularities.
Venezuela's court system is plagued by chronic corruption and a huge case backlog.
Only about 9,700 of the country's 23,000 prisoners have actually been convicted.