June 9, 2017 / 6:34 PM / a month ago

Venezuela government turns on 'traitor' prosecutor Ortega

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela April 25, 2017.Marco Bello/File Picture

CARACAS (Reuters) - Ruling Socialist Party officials have launched a series of attacks against Venezuela's chief state prosecutor this week, from accusations of insanity to promoting violence, after her high-profile break with the government.

A former ally of President Nicolas Maduro, the prosecutor Luisa Ortega has turned against him during opposition protests that have led to at least 67 deaths, thousands of injuries, hundreds of arrests and widespread destruction.

She has accused security forces of excessive violence, opposed pro-Maduro decisions by the Supreme Court and National Election Council, and said the president's plan for a new congress threatens democracy and late leader Hugo Chavez's legacy.

Though the bespectacled, 59-year-old Ortega has not joined the opposition, anti-Maduro leaders have been applauding her actions - and a growing backlash is underway within government.

"This woman, with that malicious behavior, has given manifest proof of mental insanity," prominent Socialist Party lawmaker Pedro Carreno said, calling for a psychiatric evaluation. "This woman could cause a civil war."

State television gave big coverage to a businessman accusing Ortega of improperly using a plane for personal use, while Socialist Party No. 2 Diosdado Cabello said junior prosecutors were being threatened with dismissal if they opposed her.

"You've Lost the Plot!"

Venezuela's chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz displays a tear gas canister as she talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela May 24, 2017.Marco Bello

Various officials have also accused her of turning a blind eye to opposition violence while launching probes into alleged abuses by security forces battling anti-Maduro demonstrators daily since early April.

"Mrs. Prosecutor ... you are biased ... you've lost the plot!" Socialist Party No. 2 Diosdado Cabello thundered on his weekly television program on Thursday, saying she could not prove opposition accusations that the latest fatality from protests, 17-year-old Neomar Lander, was killed by a tear gas cannister. Officials said a homemade mortar blew up in Lander's hand.

Slideshow (7 Images)

Another official Jesus Faria, who is stepping down from a ministry to run for the new constituent assembly, accused Ortega of aligning herself with the socialists' ideological foe the United States.

"Treason is the most outrageous and miserable conduct," he said. "This woman, with her comments, is inciting these armed insurrectional movements."

Ortega, who was often lauded by Maduro's mentor Chavez, has not responded in detail to the mounting accusations against her. But she is leading a push to stall the constituent assembly, appearing on the steps of the Supreme Court on Thursday to urge public opposition.

"They say 'those who don't accept the constituent assembly are traitors, fascists or terrorists'," she said. "We cannot live in a country like that."

Maduro says the assembly is the only way to bring peace to Venezuela, but opponents say a scheduled July 30 election is a sham designed purely to keep him in power. They want to bring forward the next presidential vote due at the end of 2018.

Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Toni Reinhold

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