“The separation of powers is essential for democracy to function, and keeping democratic spaces open is essential to ensure human rights are protected,” Zeid Ra’ad, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said.
Opposition leaders branded Maduro a “dictator” on Thursday after the Supreme Court took over the functions of Congress and pushed a lengthy political standoff to new heights amid a severe recession, soaring inflation and acute shortages.
Maduro has yet to comment on the decision but there are signs that at least some top officials are in disagreement.
In a surprise pronouncement, Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz – normally a government loyalist– said that it was her "unavoidable historical duty" as a Venezuelan citizen and the nation's top judicial authority to denounce what she called the Supreme Court's "rupture" of the constitutional order.
"We call for reflection, so that the democratic path can be retaken," she said to the loud applause of several aides gathered around her.
Reactions from world leaders were immediate and strong.
While Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy warned that: "If the separation of powers breaks down, democracy breaks down," Peru's government immediately recalled its ambassador in protest of what it called "a flagrant break in the democratic order."
Chile's left-of-center President Michelle Bachelet, who has been reluctant to openly criticize Maduro, said she was deeply worried by the ruling and ordered her ambassador to return home for consultations.
The US State Department reiterated its call for Maduro to free political prisoners and hold immediate elections to resolve the crisis, saying the court decision to "usurp" the National Assembly's powers represented a "serious setback for democracy in Venezuela."
OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro called for an emergency meeting of the regional group, which held two angry sessions on Venezuela earlier this week. That meeting ended with 20 governments led by the U.S. and Mexico voicing deep concern about the Venezuelan situation but no concrete actions to hold Maduro accountable.
Demonstrators on Friday blocked a highway in the capital, Caracas, and vowed lengthy protests against the ruling.
Larger demonstrations were expected later in the day as residents of eastern Caracas, the site of weeks of anti-government unrest in 2014, awoke to an eerie calm.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)