Venezuela's political opposition demanded Saturday that the Supreme Court reinstate the electoral eligibility of one of its leaders, as anxiety swirled around this year's still unscheduled vote.
The court, loyal to President Nicolas Maduro, on Friday upheld a 15-year ban on Maria Corina Machado from holding public office, and also confirmed the ineligibility of a possible opposition stand-in -- two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.
The head of the opposition delegation in a dialogue with the government, Gerardo Blyde, alleged at a news conference that the process against Machado was rife with irregularities.
There was a "violation of the due process and violation of the right to defense," Blyde said.
Machado's disqualification follows a deal between Maduro's government and the opposition, reached in Barbados last year, to hold a free and fair vote in 2024 with international observers present.
That agreement saw the United States ease sanctions against Venezuela, allowing US-based Chevron to resume limited oil extraction and leading the way to a prisoner swap.
Machado overwhelmingly won support in a primary vote last October.
But she was disqualified from holding office by authorities for alleged corruption and for backing sanctions against Caracas.
Washington on Saturday warned that it could restore sanctions on Venezuela in response to Friday's Supreme Court decision -- a move criticized by Venezuelan government spokesman Hector Rodriguez.
Sanctions "are not the answer, the answer is dialogue," he said.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said Machado would remain disqualified "for being involved... in the corruption plot orchestrated" by opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Guaido, now in exile, was recognized by dozens of countries as the legitimate winner of elections in 2018 that saw Maduro inaugurated for a second successive term despite widespread fraud claims.
Maduro has not confirmed that he will seek a third term, but is widely expected to do so.
Earlier this week, Maduro said the Barbados agreement was "mortally wounded" after government authorities claimed to have foiled numerous plots to assassinate him.
Blyde also denounced what he called violations of the agreement, with parties and civil society groups having "been attacked" in recent weeks -- citing the recent vandalization of Machado's party headquarters and the arrest of three of her team members.