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Venezuela court suspends order to change leadership of opposition party

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s supreme court on Friday suspended an earlier ruling that changed the leadership of opposition political party First Justice, as the government of President Nicolas Maduro seeks to boost opposition participation in a congressional election.

The court in June replaced First Justice’s leaders with former members of the party who had been expelled on accusations they were in cahoots with Maduro, a ruling the party cited as one of the reasons for boycotting the Dec. 6 vote.

But First Justice on Friday responded that it planned to boycott the election even though the supreme court had rolled back the prior ruling.

“First Justice reiterates its decision not to participate in the illegitimate electoral process called for December 6, 2020, for lack of electoral conditions and the risks associated with COVID-19,” the party wrote on its Twitter account.

The supreme court’s website shows only a one-sentence summary of the ruling, with no other details.

First Justice is part of the coalition that supports opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized by more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s legitimate president and who is leading an opposition effort to boycott the legislative election.

Henrique Capriles, a two-time presidential candidate and long-time First Justice member, has been in talks with the government to seek better conditions for the elections - putting him at increasing odds with the party.

First Justice said on Friday that those “running as candidates will be making the decision to leave the party,” without directly addressing Capriles’ situation.

Maduro’s government banned Capriles in 2018 from running for office on the basis of alleged financial irregularities when he was governor of the state of Miranda.

On Wednesday, Capriles said the opposition cannot hand the legislature to Maduro.

Losing congress would complicate Guaido’s claim to the presidency, which is based on his status as the chief of congress. The opposition had a landslide win in 2015 and the term ends in January.

Reporting by Vivian Sequera, Mayela Armas and Brian Ellsworth; editing by Grant McCool

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