Venezuelan leader seeks decree powers amid US rift

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro will request Tuesday special decree powers to confront what he termed "imperialist aggressions" from the United States, as relations between the countries sank further.  

Caracas: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro will request Tuesday special decree powers to confront what he termed "imperialist aggressions" from the United States, as relations between the countries sank further.

Maduro will submit his request to the National Assembly, dominated by his ruling socialist party, a day after US President Barack Obama ordered new sanctions against seven Venezuelan officials over an opposition crackdown.

The Venezuelan leader said on national television late Monday that he would ask for an "anti-imperialist law to prepare ourselves for all scenarios and win through peace."

Shortly after the US sanctions were announced, Maduro recalled his envoy to Washington and denounced the US action as "the most aggressive, unjust and harmful blow against Venezuela."

The US State Department denied that Washington was promoting "instability" or seeking to undermine Maduro`s administration, with spokeswoman Jen Psaki saying "the goal of the sanctions is to persuade the government of Venezuela to change their behavior."

Analysts and non-governmental organizations said Maduro could seize on the special powers to curb individual rights, invoking the specter of an external threat to justify his request.

"Using the external enemy, which is imperialism, the government takes advantage to build a more repressive legal framework," Edgard Gutierrez, coordinator of the Venebarometro polling firm, told AFP.

Rocio San Miguel, head of the Control Ciudadano NGO specializing in security issues, said the legislation would "be an instrument against the internal enemy ... to undermine human rights."Maduro, who was elected to succeed his late mentor Hugo Chavez in April 2013, had obtained one-year-long powers to impose economic laws by decree later that same year. Chavez issued hundreds of decrees during his 1999-2013 administration.

Maduro`s popularity has sunk in the past year amid an economic crisis, galloping inflation and huge lines outside supermarkets plagued by drastic food shortages.

He is likely to gain special powers again. Maduro would need 60 percent of the unicameral assembly`s votes, a majority his party holds with 99 pro-government deputies out of 165 lawmakers.

Maduro has accused Washington of backing an opposition plot to overthrow him in a coup that would have involved bombing the presidential palace. The US government has dismissed the charges as baseless.

In activating the sanctions, Obama called the situation in oil-rich Venezuela "an extraordinary threat to the national security" of the United States.

The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010. The US State Department restricted visas to dozens of Venezuelan officials last month, prompting Maduro to demand Washington to reduce its diplomatic presence in Caracas and require visas for US tourists.Venezuela`s regional allies Cuba and Ecuador closed ranks behind Caracas.

An official statement published in communist Cuba`s state-run media called the US sanctions "arbitrary and aggressive." It was the first confrontation between Havana and Washington since the two countries agreed to seek normal relations in December.

"Cuba again reiterates its unconditional support and that of our people for the Bolivarian Revolution, the legitimate government of President Nicolas Maduro, and the heroic brotherly people of Venezuela," the statement said.

Ecuador`s leftist President Rafael Correa took to Twitter to denounce the US sanctions as "grotesque" and a "sick joke."

The European Union said it was closely watching developments in Venezuela but would not join Washington in imposing sanctions.

The secretary general of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, said the regional body`s permanent council should hold a meeting about the US-Venezuela spat.

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