Venezuela's Congress declared Sunday that the government staged a coup by blocking a referendum effort that could have led to the ouster of President Nicolas Maduro.
During an emergency session, the opposition-majority legislature passed a resolution proclaiming the "breakdown of constitutional order" and "a coup d'etat committed by the Nicolas Maduro regime."
Majority leader Julio Borges of the Democratic Unity Roundtable said "A continual coup d'etat has been perpetrated in Venezuela, culminating in the decision to rob us of a recall referendum. We're here to officially declare the regrettable and painful rupture of the constitution."
Legislators also proposed to replace Supreme Court judges and other national elections officials.
Lawmakers in favor of the Maduro administration accused the opposition of exploiting a situation to stage a coup.
"Don't try to take advantage of these hard times to finish off our nation," deputy Earle Herrera said.
In the day's agenda, Congress also wanted to vote to put Maduro on trial, but legislators were stopped after protesters in favor of the government entered the heavily secured building.
Opposition spokesman Jesus Torrealba said what happened on the Congress floor was an example of how democracy has been struggling in the country.
"The fact that lawmakers elected by 7.5 million people were silenced by 300 thugs sums up the situation better than any speech could," he said.
The legislature's resolution, however, is mostly symbolic as the Supreme Court declared the lawmakers in favor of the resolution in contempt of court for challenging the order.
The high court has blocked most bills passed by Congress since the opposition won control in January.
But the opposition is still urging Venezuelans to build pressure in the streets and vowed to lead a nationwide protest Wednesday called "the taking of Venezuela."
In the meantime, Maduro is touring the Middle East to push his plan for major oil producers, like Venezuela, to increase cooperation and slash oil output.
On Saturday, several thousand women marched on the streets of Caracas to protest the suspension of the referendum effort.
The protesters, led by Lilian Tintori and Patricia Gutierrez - wives of jailed political leaders and well-known voices against the current government - closed a lane of a major highway to show their dissatisfaction the administration of Maduro.
“We’re here to demand respect for the constitution, for Venezuelans to have elections to escape dictatorship,” human resource worker Nayiber Bracho said.
Venezuela’s electoral officials put a stop to the referendum effort Thursday after nearly a year of opposition campaigning.
Officials alleged fraud had taken place in the signature-gathering process for a referendum on the socialist leader.
"We can't handle this anymore, there is no food, there is no medicine, there is no future for my grandchildren nor for any Venezuelans," 65-year-old Maria de Guevara said.
"Of course, they have the right to request for the referendum, but they are also forced to comply with the constitution and the law. And we have the right to defend brother Nicolas Maduro, because I voted for Maduro, and I want Maduro to finish his term," said Diosdado Cabello, a lawmaker with the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.
Former Venezuelan presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said he and seven opposition leaders have received a court order blocking them from leaving the country.
“What we saw yesterday [Thursday] was a coup,” Capriles told reporters. “We’ll remain peaceful but we will not be taken for fools.”
Public opinion polls indicate that at least 80 percent of Venezuelans want Maduro out of office.
Recalling Maduro would push the Socialist Party out of power and trigger an early presidential election.
The recall effort had run into opposition from the election board, which imposed restrictions early on and argued that it would take until 2017 to put the proper conditions in place.
Thursday's ruling was followed by another decision after the electoral council suspended for 6 months gubernatorial elections that were scheduled for later this year.
The Socialist Party decided to put off elections indefinitely.
Venezuelan officials blame the opposition for the timing, saying the coalition took three months to reach a consensus on the referendum and that fraud was committed in a preliminary signature drive.
Countries like the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Chile and Uruguay released statements expressing concerns over the government blocking the referendum and placing travel restrictions on opposition leaders.
These countries urged Venezuela to respect human rights, find measures to assure a peaceful dialogue, and aimed the Venezuelan government to reach for "long-standing solutions in favor of democracy and social stability.