By Alexandra Ulmer and Corina Pons
Venezuela's opposition has slammed a state of emergency decreed by President Nicolas Maduro and vowed to press home efforts to remove the leftist leader this year amid a grim economic crisis.
Mr Maduro on Friday night declared a 60-day state of emergency due to what he called plots from Venezuela and the United States to subvert him. He did not provide specifics.
The measure shows Mr Maduro is panicking as a push for a recall referendum against him gains traction with tired, frustrated Venezuelans, opposition leaders said during a protest in Caracas.
"We're talking about a desperate president who is putting himself on the margin of legality and constitutionality," said Democratic Unity coalition leader Jesus Torrealba, adding Mr Maduro was losing support within his own bloc.
"If this state of emergency is issued without consulting the National Assembly, we would technically be talking about a self-coup," he said as hundreds of supporters waved Venezuelan flags and placards reading "Recall referendum now!"
The opposition won control of the National Assembly in a December election, propelled by voter anger over shortages of food and medicines, raging inflation that has annihilated salaries, and rampant violent crime.
But Venezuela's Supreme Court has routinely backed Mr Maduro in disputes with the legislature, depriving it of much sway.
As lootings and power cuts increase, a key poll shows nearly 70 percent of Venezuelans now say Mr Maduro must go this year.
Mr Maduro has vowed to see his term through, however, blasting opposition politicians as coup-mongering elitists seeking to emulate the impeachment of fellow leftist Dilma Rousseff in Brazil.
"There will be a social explosion if Maduro doesn't let the recall referendum happen," said protester Marisol Dos Santos, 34, an office worker at a supermarket where she says some 800 people queue up daily.