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UN finds 'widespread and systematic' violations against protesters in Venezuela

The UN human rights office says it has unearthed "widespread and systematic use" of excessive force, arbitrary detention and other rights violations against demonstrators and detainees in Venezuela.

Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said preliminary findings suggest there are "no signs" that the situation is improving.

The team's analysis found security forces were allegedly responsible for at least 46 deaths, and pro-government armed groups were allegedly responsible for 27 among 124 deaths being investigated in connection with demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro's government.

It said it was unclear who the perpetrators of the other deaths were.

The rights office said violations included "house raids, torture and ill-treatment of those detained in connection with the protests".

A full report on the team's findings is expected later this month

The report came as Venezuela's supreme court ordered the removal and arrest of a Caracas-area mayor at the heart of anti-government protests, and Mr Maduro's all-powerful constitutional assembly forges ahead on promises to punish the embattled leader's foes.

The government-packed high court sentenced Ramon Muchacho to 15 months in prison for not following an order to remove barricades set up in the leafy Chacao district of eastern Caracas where the Emory University MBA graduate has been mayor since 2013.

He is the fourth opposition mayor whose arrest the high court has sought in the past two weeks. The court also ordered an investigation into another prominent Caracas-area mayor, David Smolansky, for the same alleged crimes.

Mr Muchacho's whereabouts were not immediately known, but he denounced the ruling on Twitter, saying that "all of the weight of the revolutionary injustice has fallen on my shoulders" for doing his job to guarantee the constitutional right to protest.

Chacao was previously governed by Leopoldo Lopez, the most prominent activist jailed by the Maduro government, and is the main gathering point for protests.

The crackdown on the opposition is likely to dominate a meeting in Peru where foreign ministers from more than a dozen Latin American governments are discussing how to force Mr Maduro to back down.

Peru's president has been vocal in rejecting the new Venezuelan assembly, but the region has had trouble agreeing on collective actions.

Venezuela is facing mounting pressure and threats of deepening sanctions from trade partners. It was recently suspended from South America's Mercosur trade bloc and the Trump administration sanctioned several top officials including Mr Maduro.

He has remained firm in pressing the constitutional assembly forward in executing his priorities. As a counter to the Peru meeting, he was hosting a meeting of foreign ministers from the Bolivarian Alliance, a leftist coalition of 11 Latin American nations.

The new constitutional assembly has signalled it will act swiftly in following through with Mr Maduro's commands. It voted on Saturday to replace chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz with a government loyalist and create a "truth commission" that will wield unusual power to prosecute and levy sentences.

Opposition leaders vowed to remain in their posts in their only government foothold - the country's single-chamber congress - despite threats from the constitutional assembly to strip them of any authority and lock up key leaders.

Legislators voted unanimously on Monday not to recognise any of the new super body's decrees.

They also are vowing to remain on the streets, beginning with a call for supporters to blockade streets and bring the nation to a standstill.

AP

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