Venezuela court says it can take over Congress' powers

According to the court ruling, the actions of congressional lawmakers were in violation of constitutional order for failing to heed a prior ruling from the court. The Democratic Unity opposition coalition slammed the Supreme Court decision, with lawmakers accusing Maduro of acting like a dictator.

But the Supreme Court scuttled the opposition's powerful two-thirds majority when it barred the three investigated lawmakers from taking their seats.

President Nicolas Maduro and his allies tightened their grip in Venezuela on Thursday as the Supreme Court seized legislative powers from the opposition-majority National Assembly, whose speaker declared a "coup".

Peru's government immediately recalled its ambassador in protest and condemnations poured in from several regional governments.

The ruling came a day after the Organization of American States (OAS) held a special meeting where 20 countries voiced concern about the situation in Venezuela, drawing a furious reaction from Maduro.

There was swift global condemnation of the de facto annulment of the National Assembly, where the opposition won a majority in late 2015 amid an unprecedented economic crisis that has seen Maduro's popularity plummet. "It's one thing to try and build a dictatorship and another to complete the circuit".

Wednesday's late ruling only makes that clearer.

Venezuela's political factions have been at loggerheads since opponents of President Maduro wrest control of the legislature a year ago, putting an end to over a decade of near complete governing control enjoyed by the ruling coalition.

A smaller group of 14 governments, including the US, have also called for immediate elections to resolve the stalemate. Maduro's government a year ago cancelled a recall referendum seeking to remove him from office before his term ends in 2019 and suspended gubernatorial elections the opposition is heavily favored to win.

Maduro has accused opposition lawmakers of treason for asking the OAS to consider suspending Venezuela for violating democratic norms. Maduro says the OAS is a pawn of United States "imperialism".

"We reject the Peruvian government's rude support for the violent and extremist sectors in Venezuela", Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said in a series of tweets. "To be silent in the face of a dictatorship is the lowest indignity in politics". Late on Wednesday, however, it did just that when laying out its reasoning in authorising Maduro to create oil joint ventures, overruling the standard legal procedure which requires congressional approval.

State media on Thursday took a far different tone, saying the court's ruling was not seeking to supplant congress but rather guarantee the rule of law so long as congress remains obstructionist, refusing to sign off on a budget and key economic decisions Maduro says are needed to overcome widespread shortages and triple-digit inflation.

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