Venezuela opposition parliament names alternative Supreme Court justices; Mercosur urges Maduro to put off constituent assembly vote

Venezuela's opposition-led parliament on Friday appointed alternative judges to the country's Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), whose current pro-government members have been a bedrock of support for leftist President Nicolas Maduro.

While widely seen as symbolic, the move raises the specter of the development of a parallel state. The top court has warned that the naming of the alternate judges is illegal, and they could be jailed. 

Undeterred, opposition lawmakers swore in the 13 new judges and 20 substitute judges in a public plaza to combat what they say is oil-rich Venezuela's slide into dictatorship under Maduro. 

"We're not backing down, Venezuela will have a Supreme Tribunal of Justice and institutions at the service of the people and not at the service of whatever government is in power," said opposition legislator Carlos Berrizbeitia during the ceremony, where the appointed justices were applauded and cheered on with shouts of "Bravo!" 

Critics hold that the TSJ’s current justices were named illegally by the ruling Socialist Party and rushed in before the opposition took over the legislature in January 2016. 

"They're pirate magistrates named on the fly," said opposition legislator Juan Requesens in a video streamed live on the Periscope service, which the opposition often uses given limited coverage of their activities on local television channels. 

In a statement broadcast on state television later on Friday, the Supreme Court blasted the alternative judges who were named by the legislature. 

The opposition is vying to stop Maduro's plan to on July 30 create a controversial super-legislature with powers to rewrite the constitution and supersede other institutions. The Venezuela president faces widespread pressure from abroad to abort the assembly, including from U.S. President Donald Trump who said on Monday he would take "strong and swift economic actions" if the Venezuelan leader went ahead with his plans. 

Regional pressure is also rising. The Mercosur trade bloc asked Maduro on Friday to suspend his plan to rewrite the troubled nation's constitution

In a statement, the leaders of the South American group also offered to help in any talks between Venezuela's government and the opposition aimed at solving the country's political and economic crisis.