Venezuelan opposition protests began and foreign pressure mounted on Friday over a court takeover of Congress that many viewed as a lurch into dictatorship by a leftist government grappling with a plunge in popularity.
“We will not accept usurpation by the Supreme Court,” said a student group in Caracas marching to the nation’s top tribunal which has assumed the functions of the opposition-led National Assembly, reports Reuters.
Elsewhere, protesters blocked a main Caracas motorway, joined by opposition lawmaker Miguel Pizarro.
“We mustn’t give up or stop, we have to demand our rights,” he said.
Having already shot down most of the National Assembly’s measures since the opposition won control in 2015, the pro-Maduro court this week said it was assuming the legislature’s functions because it was in “contempt” of the law.
Outraged foes of President Nicolas Maduro accused him of staging a “coup” against an elected body. Maduro, 54, a former bus driver and self-declared “son” of late leftist predecessor Hugo Chavez, was narrowly elected in 2013.
The court move also brought condemnations and concern from the United States, Organization of American States (OAS), European Union, major Latin American nations and the top U.N. human rights official.
Ally Russia, however, bucked the trend in a statement on Friday urging the world to leave Venezuela alone.
“External forces should not add fuel to the fire to the conflict inside Venezuela,” it said. “We are confident in the principle of non-interference in internal affairs.”
Maduro accuses Washington of leading a push to topple him as part of a wider offensive against leftist governments in Latin America. Brazil, Argentina and Peru have all moved to the right recently.
However, new U.S. President Donald Trump seems to have other priorities or has not yet fully formed policy on Venezuela.
OAS head Luis Almagro, whom the Venezuelan government views as a pawn of Washington, has been pushing for its suspension from the 34-nation regional bloc and wants an emergency meeting after the latest developments.
But suspension appears unlikely, diplomats say, given Venezuela’s support from other leftist governments and small nations who have benefited from its oil largesse, and anyway it would only be a symbolic sanction, albeit a strong one.
“It’s false there has been a coup d’etat in Venezuela,” Venezuela’s foreign ministry said, alleging a regional right-wing conspiracy against it.
“On the contrary, institutions have adopted legal correctives to stop the deviant and coup-seeking actions of opposition parliamentarians openly in contempt of decisions by the republic’s maximum tribunal.”