March 30, 2016 / 12:55 PM / 4 years ago

Venezuela parliament approves amnesty law, Maduro vows to veto

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with ministers in Caracas, in this handout picture provided by Miraflores Palace on March 23, 2016. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout via Reuters

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition-controlled Congress late on Tuesday approved an amnesty law to free jailed opposition activists and end legal proceedings against others, a measure President Nicolas Maduro promised to veto.

The law would benefit high-profile government adversaries including Leopoldo Lopez, who was arrested in 2014 on accusations that he helped spur a wave of demonstrations that ultimately left more than 40 people dead.

“Rest assured that the law will not get past me,” Maduro said in a televised speech several hours before the law was given final parliamentary approval. “Laws to protect terrorists and criminals will not get past me, no matter what they do.”

Maduro denies opposition accusations that his administration holds political prisoners, insisting they are simply “imprisoned politicians.”

His critics accuse him of arbitrarily arresting dozens of student demonstrators during the 2014 protests, jailing critics on fabricated coup plots and rigging legal proceedings against them.

“No murderer will receive amnesty,” said opposition legislator Delsa Solorzano, who helped write the legislation. “These are our political prisoners, citizens who were charged with whatever crime (the government) could come up with.”

Maduro may seek to have the law shot down by the Supreme Court, which has repeatedly sided with the executive branch in disputes with the opposition legislature.

An amnesty can be declared unconstitutional if the beneficiaries have committed crimes against humanity or violated of human rights, legal experts say. The opposition insists that none of the potential beneficiaries were investigated or convicted such crimes.

Late President Chavez Hugo, who was himself a beneficiary of amnesty after leading a failed 1992 coup, in 2007 decreed amnesty in relation to the events of 2002 that included a brief coup against him.

Reporting by Eyanir Chinea, writing by Brian Ellsworth, Editing by W Simon

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