MADRID: Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy warned Friday that democracy could break down in Venezuela, joining other international leaders in condemning the country's Supreme Court seizing power from the opposition-led legislature.
Widely branded a coup, the court's move tightened socialist President Nicolas Maduro's grip after more than a year in which he has been locked in a political struggle with the centre-right opposition.
"If the separation of powers breaks down, democracy breaks down," Rajoy warned in a tweet.
"For freedom, democracy and the rule of law in Venezuela."
In a decision announced late Wednesday, Venezuela's Supreme Court -- whose judges have staunchly backed Maduro -- said it would directly assume parliamentary powers, accusing the National Assembly of being in contempt of court.
The ruling strips Maduro's opponents in the legislature of what little grip they had over a key pillar of government.
Hugo Chavez's successor now holds all state powers -- the executive, legislature, judiciary and army.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday also stripped parliamentary immunity from lawmakers in the assembly.
Critics said the move was an authoritarian turn for the South American oil-producing giant, where an economic crisis has caused food shortages, riots and an epidemic of violent crime.
The US State Department called it "a serious setback for democracy."
Regional powers Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Chile and others also warned it was a threat to democracy in Venezuela.
Guatemala also denounced the court's action. But leftist-led Bolivia defended Maduro.
The hardest line came from the secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, who echoed Maduro's opponents' claims of a "coup d'Etat."
Meanwhile, the speaker of the National Assembly, Julio Borges, urged the army, which has thus far supported Maduro, to take a stand.
Spain, the main intermediary between Latin America and the European Union, has been a host nation for many Venezuelans fleeing the political and economic crisis in their country.
The conservatives in Spain openly support Venezuela's centre-right opposition, and Lilian Tintori, the wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, makes regularly trips to the country.