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Nicolas Maduro accused of 'coup' over Congress powers

Critics accuse President Maduro of 'staging a coup' after top court's decision to take over powers assigned to Congress.

Venezuela's Supreme Court

Venezuela's Supreme Court has ruled that it will take over the opposition-led Congress' legislative powers, in a move condemned by opposition parties as an attempt to install a dictatorship.

The court, which has consistently sided with President Nicolas Maduro's administration, said late on Wednesday that as long as the Congress remains in "contempt" of past court rulings "congressional functions will be exercised by this chamber or another chosen organ".

The dispute centres on three legislators banned over vote fraud accusations.

Maduro critics say is an excuse for the government to muzzle opposition during a mounting economic crisis in the oil-rich country.

The Democratic Unity organisation, an opposition bloc, criticised the Supreme Court's decision on Thursday, with several legislators accusing Maduro of acting like a dictator.

"This unconstitutional sentence that we reject ... cements another step in the dismantling of Venezuela's democracy," the opposition said in a statement.

"This government is dying, and that's why it's turning to these desperate measures."

"Nicolas Maduro has staged a coup in Venezuela," Congress Speaker Julio Borges said in a fiery speech outside the National Assembly on Thursday.

Easy ventures

The measure may come as good news for some foreign oil companies in Venezuela that were spooked by the opposition's warning that investment deals bypassing Congress would not be considered valid.

As Venezuela tries to raise funds while facing steep bond payments and a reeling economy, it has sought to sell stakes in oil fields.

State oil company PDVSA recently offered Russia's Rosneft a stake in the Petropiar oil joint venture, sources with knowledge of the proposal told the Reuters news agency this month.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court authorised Maduro to create joint oil ventures without congressional approval.


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