U.S. condemns Venezuela Supreme Court decision

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Then late on Wednesday, it explicitly stated it was assuming the legislature's role in a ruling authorizing Maduro to create oil joint ventures without the previously mandated 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.

"This is a fraudulent court whose interpretations of the constitution violate the document itself", he said in a radio interview.

"Nicolas Maduro has carried out a "coup d'etat". this is a dictatorship", said National Assembly President Julio Borges, before tearing up a copy of the Supreme Court ruling at a news conference in the gardens of the legislature.

The opposition says the court is controlled by the government.

Venezuelan political analyst Carlos Romero warned that "democracy is in danger" in the country.

Except for a small group that protested outside the Supreme Court and another one that briefly blocked traffic on Caracas' highway, the streets were calm as Venezuelans accustomed to Maduro's aggressive tactics spent time waiting in long lines for food and going about daily chores that have become increasingly hard as Venezuela's economy has suffered.

The removal of the three opposition lawmakers took away the opposition's qualified majority, or supermajority, in the National Assembly.

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

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Venezuela's oil production has continued to fall even as oil prices have remained weak, leaving the country's near $100 billion (€93 billion) of global debt teetering on the brink of default.

Sabatini said the timing was no coincidence. "Screw you, we're still going to do whatever we want'".

On Wednesday, Cardinal Baltazar Porras said the ruling issued by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice limits parliamentary immunity and grants Maduro extraordinary powers.

Maduro has jailed scores of opponents and ridden roughshod over lawmakers' powers ever since the opposition swept congressional elections by a landslide in 2015 and immediately set out to remove the socialist leader from office through a recall referendum.

Treason carries a sentence of up to 30 years in Venezuela.

The stakes are potentially enormous for the struggling state oil company, PDVSA, where debts have soared and production has plunged amid a sharp decline in global oil prices since 2014.

Lacking the oil dollars it once used to import almost everything else, the country has been hit by severe shortages of food, medicine and basic goods like deodorant and toilet paper.

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