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Nicolas Maduro rejects coup allegations

President Nicolas Maduro vows to resolve controversy over decision by Supreme Court to strip Congress of its powers.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro has rejected accusations that moves to consolidate his power in the crisis-hit country violated the constitution.

Maduro's opponents accused him of staging a coup after the Supreme Court took over powers from the legislature and removed lawmakers' immunity.

"In Venezuela, the constitution, civil, political and human rights and people power are in full force," Maduro said in a speech to cheering supporters on Friday.

Maduro said he had known nothing in advance of the court's ruling but would immediately address the matter.

International powers condemned the court's move, which gave the socialist president control over the only major state institution that still had been out of his grasp.

The move earned the government public condemnation for the first time from a senior member of Maduro's own camp, Attorney General Luisa Ortega, who broke ranks with him on Friday.

She branded the court's rulings a "rupture of constitutional order," in a surprise declaration on state television.

Coming from a staunch supporter of Maduro's late predecessor Hugo Chavez, it was the strongest sign of divisions in the government camp since its standoff with the centre-right opposition started in January 2016.

Maduro responded to Ortega in his speech by vowing "through dialogue and the constitution, to resolve the impasse" between the attorney general and the court.

He also said he had called a meeting of security chiefs to "deliberate and draw up a resolution".

'No To Dictatorship'

Throughout Friday, pockets of protesters blocked roads, unfurled banners and chanted slogans against Maduro's unpopular government, including "Freedom!" and "No to Dictatorship!"

Having already shot down most of the Congress' measures since the opposition won control in 2015, the pro-Maduro Supreme Court on Wednesday said it was taking over the legislature's role because it was in "contempt" of the law.

READ MORE: Police crack down on protests after 'power grab'

Maduro, 54, was narrowly elected in 2013 amid widespread support for the ruling Socialist Party's welfare programmes.

But his ratings have plummeted to just over 20 percent as Venezuelans struggle with a fourth year of recession, scarcities of food and medicines and the highest inflation in the world.

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