CARACAS - European and Latin American countries that support Venezuela's opposition condemned on Thursday the arrest of a top lawmaker as the government of President Nicolas Maduro intensified pressure on adversaries who called in vain for a military uprising last week.
The arrest of Edgar Zambrano, vice president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly in Venezuela, appeared to be part of a carefully calibrated crackdown on the opposition, whose leader, Juan Guaido, says Maduro's government is weak and fractured. The United States, which has imposed sanctions in Venezuela's oil industry, has warned of severe repercussions if Maduro moves against the man he has described as a collaborator in a U.S.-engineered coup plot.
Guaido alleges that the government is chipping away at the National Assembly, the key Venezuelan institution calling for change in a country whose economic problems are so chronic that several million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years.
Venezuela's top court announced investigations of Zambrano and nine other members of the National Assembly for alleged roles in supporting Guaido's failed appeal for a military uprising on April 30. Late Wednesday, Zambrano was detained by members of Venezuela's intelligence agency.
The Lima Group, which includes a dozen Latin American countries and Canada, said his arrest was unconstitutional because his parliamentary immunity was illegally lifted.
Germany also called for the release of the No. 2 leader of the Venezuelan congress, a conciliatory figure within the opposition who became Guaido's deputy in a power-sharing arrangement among the biggest parties.
Diosdado Cabello, a leading political ally of Maduro, suggested that the government is taking a methodical approach in its struggle with the opposition.
“We're not in a rush,” Cabello said.
Some National Assembly members, meanwhile, have sought refuge in diplomatic missions, echoing moves made by 1970s-era dissidents scrambling for protection under the flags of other countries during the previous era of Latin American dictatorships, including in Chile and Argentina.
Richard Blanco, another National Assembly member facing possible arrest, told VPItv, a local media outlet, that he had gone to the Argentine embassy in Caracas. Still another, Mariela Magallanes, is staying at the home of the Italian ambassador in the Venezuelan capital.
Opposition activist Leopoldo Lopez entered the home of the Spanish ambassador last week, after he joined Guaido in the failed attempt to get the military to topple Maduro. Lopez was detained for leading anti-government protests in 2014 and had been under house arrest for two years before he was freed.
Maduro has not tried to arrest Guaido, who declared himself interim president of Venezuela in January. The United States says Russia-backed Maduro was elected illegitimately last year and that Guaido should be allowed to lead Venezuelans to free elections after years of turmoil.
Maduro says he champions the socialist principles of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.
Despite intense international pressure, Maduro has secured the support of the bulk of Venezuela's military and managed to maintain his grip on power.