Venezuelan official may face charges

Opposition leader target of criminal probe by government

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CARACAS, Venezuela — One month after the arrest of a key opposition leader, Venezuelan government officials have moved to prosecute another: national assembly member Maria Corina Machado.

The Venezuelan National Assembly has ordered Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz to begin proceedings to strip Machado, a harsh critic of President Nicolas Maduro and National Assembly leader Diosdado Cabello, of her legislative immunity and place her under criminal investigation related to recent anti-government protests that have left at least 30 dead.

Cabello told reporters Tuesday in Caracas that the charges Machado faces include criminal conspiracy, homicide and treason. Speaking of Machado, Cabello said: "You will be judged; you'll never be president of this country. Come down off your cloud."

During a National Assembly session earlier in the day, Cabello repeatedly referred to Machado as "assassin."

Machado has tried to rally students and other government opponents since Leopoldo Lopez, a former mayor of a Caracas borough, was arrested Feb. 18 on charges of incitement to violence. The protests focus on rising violent crime; increasing shortages of basic food, electricity and water; and a weak economy with an inflation rate of more than 50 percent.

In addition to those killed in clashes, more than 300 were injured. Each side blamed the other for the violence. Heavy police presence in affluent parts of eastern Caracas, a focal point of protests in the capital, has reduced demonstrations in recent days.

But clashes continue in other cities across Venezuela, particularly in San Cristobal, the capital of western Tachira state, where 18-year-old engineering student Anthony Rojas was fatally shot Tuesday night.

After the government action against Machado became known, she released a video over social networks in which she said: "They want to eliminate us but they only make us invincible. There are millions of us on the streets and we won't stop until we achieve democracy."

Machado and other opposition assembly members were attacked by other legislators on the floor of congress last April. Although Machado's nose was broken in the melee, Cabello, who presides over the assembly, issued no disciplinary measures.

This month, Machado told reporters she was attacked by government supporters in the airport at Puerto Ordaz in eastern Venezuela after leading marches with other Maduro opponents.