Assembly in Venezuela approves pardon for political prisoners

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Caracas (AFP)

Lawmakers in Venezuela's opposition-controlled legislature approved an amnesty for jailed foes of President Nicolas Maduro, who has pledged to veto the bill.

The elected socialist president maintains that there are no political prisoners in Venezuela; The opposition disagrees.

"This law is aimed at ending the era of prison and persecution for those who simply think differently. We cannot talk about justice when there are political prisoners, and political exiles," lawmaker Delsa Solorzano said on presenting the bill.

Elias Jaua, a pro-government lawmaker, slammed the bill as "criminal amnesia."

"From this moment forward, we are disregarding this legislation. We urge all government, civilian and military authorities to do the same," he said.

The amnesty bill seeks the release of 75 jailed dissidents.

"There is not going to be a coup here, or social unrest. Just a transition from authoritarianism to democracy," said opposition MUD coalition leader Jesus Torrealba.

Maduro has introduced emergency economic measures that give him heightened powers to intervene in the stricken, state-led economy.

Venezuela has the world's biggest known oil reserves but has suffered as crude prices have fallen sharply.

Citizens are suffering shortages of basics such as toilet paper and cooking oil.