BRUSSELS: The EU agreed to add Venezuela's interior minister and six other senior officials to its sanctions blacklist on Thursday, European sources said, the first time the bloc has targeted individual members of President Nicolas Maduro's regime.
The head of the Venezuelan Supreme Court and the chief of the intelligence agency are also blacklisted, diplomatic sources said, making them subject to asset freezes and travel bans.
The European Union has voiced serious concerns about rights abuses in Venezuela, where protests against Maduro last year turned violent and economic collapse has led to dire shortages of food and medicine.
Last week four people were killed in violence linked to food looting, bringing to six the number of deaths tied to desperate shortages in the oil-rich but crisis-riven country since December.
Ambassadors from the 28 EU member states on Thursday "agreed on new listings... in view of the situation in Venezuela", an EU official told AFP.
Diplomatic sources said the seven include Interior Minister Nestor Reverol, Supreme Court president Maikel Moreno, intelligence chief Gustavo Gonzalez Lopez and the number two of Maduro's ruling socialist party Diosdado Cabello.
The move comes after the bloc hit Venezuela in November with an embargo on weapons and equipment that could be used for political repression.
European Commission spokeswoman Catherine Ray refused to comment on Thursday's decision, which is set to be formally approved by member states' foreign ministers when they meet on Monday.
But Ray said the bloc would keep following the situation in Venezuela closely and "calibrate the actions in light of developments on the ground".
She added that the EU was "always in full support" of efforts to find a negotiated solution, with Venezuelan government and opposition representatives set to hold a new round of talks in the Dominican Republic on Thursday.
The opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) wants to ensure this year's presidential election be "free and fair" -- something that will be difficult to achieve.
The latest round of meetings, last week, came after Maduro's government threatened to ban key opposition parties from the election, while the opposition threatened to resume street protests which cost the lives of 125 people last year.
Venezuela's all-powerful Constituent Assembly, loyal to Maduro, has ordered the three main opposition parties to re-register with the National Electoral Council in order to take part in the presidential election.