Latin America & Caribbean

Fifth Venezuela opposition mayor sentenced over protests

El Hatillo's Mayor David Smolansky speaks next to other opposition mayors during a press conference at Bolivar square in the Chacao neighbourhood in Caracas, on May 25, 2017 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption David Smolansky is the latest in a series of mayors to be removed from office

Venezuela's Supreme Court has removed the mayor of El Hatillo neighbourhood in Caracas from office and sentenced him to 15 months in prison.

The court found Mayor David Smolansky, of the opposition Popular Will party, guilty of failing to prevent anti-government protests.

Four other opposition mayors have already been found guilty of similar charges.

The sentence came as the US imposed sanctions on more government officials.

'Dictatorship'

The new sanctions target eight politicians with links to the controversial constituent assembly elected on 30 July. Among them is Adán Chávez, brother of former President Hugo Chávez.

US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that said the constituent assembly had been created through an undemocratic process intended to subvert the will of the Venezuelan people.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The opposition has dismissed the constituent assembly as a "fraud"

"President Maduro swore in this illegitimate constituent assembly to further entrench his dictatorship," Mr Mnuchin said

Under the sanctions, the US assets of those named will be frozen and they will be banned from travelling to the US. US citizens will also be barred from doing business with them.

The US had already imposed sanctions on 13 current and former Venezuelan officials on 26 May and on President Nicolás Maduro on 31 July.

Venezuela has been dismissive of the sanctions.

'Aggression'

Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza called them an "act of aggression" before saying that "Venezuela cannot be sanctioned by anything or anyone".

Since the constituent assembly was sworn in on 4 August, the political crisis has swiftly deteriorated and there has been a further crackdown on opposition figures.

One of the assembly's first actions was to sack the chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, who has become one of the most vocal critics of the government.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court sentenced opposition mayor Ramón Muchacho to 15 months in prison for failing to prevent protests in the Caracas neighbourhood of Chacao.

On Wednesday it imposed the same sentence on David Smolansky. Both mayors are currently in hiding at unknown locations.

In a video published on his Twitter account, Mr Smolansky called on the people of El Hatillo to take to the streets at 07:00 local time (11:00 GMT) "to defend their neighbourhood".

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