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Venezuela's Supreme Court ruled it can take over the powers of congress in what opponents of socialist President Nicolas Maduro as well as foreign governments denounced as the latest step toward installing a dictatorship in this South American nation.

In a decision late Wednesday, the magistrates said that as long as lawmakers remain in contempt of past court rulings nullifying all legislation coming out of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, the high court can step in and assume congressional duties itself.

Peru's government immediately recalled its ambassador in protest while condemnations poured in from governments across Latin America. The head of the Organization of American States called for an emergency meeting to deal with what he called a "self-inflicted coup d'etat" by Maduro against the congress. Some hard-line Venezuelan opposition members went on social media to appeal for the military to intervene, and a few protests broke out in the capital.

The U.S. State Department reiterated its call for immediate elections to resolve Venezuela's political crisis, saying the decision to "usurp" the National Assembly's powers represented a "serious setback for democracy in Venezuela."

"This rupture of democratic and constitutional norms greatly damages Venezuela's democratic institutions and denies the Venezuelan people the right to shape their country's future through their elected representatives," the U.S. statement said.

While past decisions by the government-stacked Supreme Court had stripped power from congress, Wednesday's move allows Maduro to rule by fiat, said Julio Borges, the assembly's president. He joined opposition leaders in calling for a new round of demonstrations beginning with a march Saturday, although recent attempts to apply street pressure on the government have failed to attract a large following.



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