Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced a sweeping crackdown under a new emergency decree, ordering the seizure of paralyzed factories, the arrest of their owners and military exercises to counter alleged foreign threats.
He accused the United States of destabilizing the country at the behest of the "fascist Venezuelan right," prompting him to declare a state of emergency.
The opposition won control of the National Assembly in a December election, propelled by voter anger over product shortages, raging inflation that has annihilated salaries and rampant violent crime, but the legislature has been routinely undercut by the Supreme Court.
The result of all this is frequent power cuts, inflation, chaos, mobs looting shops and shortage of basic needs like food, medicines and fuel.
Protests are on the rise and a key poll shows nearly 70 percent of Venezuelans now say Maduro must go this year.
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Many feel the Maduro’s action shows that he is panicking.
"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.
"If this state of emergency is issued without consulting the National Assembly, we would technically be talking about a self-coup," he told hundreds of supporters who waved Venezuelan flags and chanted "he's going to fall."
There seem to be some weight to the theory as Maduro also ordered military exercises "to prepare ourselves for any scenario," denouncing alleged plans for an "armed intervention."
U.S. intelligence officials predict that Maduro is not likely to be able to complete his term, which is due to end after elections in late 2018. He may be forced out by his party or powerful political figures. They also indicated the possibility of a military coup.