Clashes in Venezuela as supreme court strips powers from congress

Adam Arnold, News Reporter

Protesters have clashed with police in Venezuela after the pro-president supreme court took legislative powers away from the opposition-controlled national assembly.

The move was condemned by Latin American governments, with the Organisation of American States calling it a "self-inflicted coup" by President Nicolas Maduro's regime against congress.

In the capital Caracas, student demonstrators were involved in scuffles with officers.

The feud goes back to December 2015 when the opposition won control of the assembly by a landslide and then campaigned to force the socialist president from office.

He responded by stacking the supreme court with his supporters and relying on them to veto legislation passed by congress.

This week the court said it was assuming parliament's functions because it was in "contempt" of the law.

The power grab is seen a lurch towards dictatorship by the president and his government.

And it comes at a time when the two are grappling with a plunge in popularity amid widespread food shortages and high inflation.

An opposition leader Freddy Guevara said the move "marks a point of no return on the road to dictatorship".

And a student protest group in Caracas said: "We will not accept usurpation by the supreme court", while other protesters blocked a motorway.

They were joined by opposition politician Miguel Pizarro who said: "We mustn't give up or stop, we have to demand our rights."

Colombia and Chile have recalled their ambassadors, as has Peru which called the takeover "a flagrant break in the democratic order".

Germany accused Mr Maduro of holding the country's population as "hostages" in his battle with parliament.

And the US has reiterated its call for him to free political prisoners and hold immediate elections to resolve the crisis.

It claimed the court decision to "usurp" the assembly's powers was a "serious setback for democracy in Venezuela".

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