Venezuela's ambassador to the United Nations has resigned to protest the policies of President Hugo Chavez. In his resignation statement, the envoy was equally harsh in criticizing both Venezuela's government and its opponents.

Venezuelan Ambassador Milos Alcalay surprised the U.N. diplomatic community Thursday. At a hastily called news conference, he announced he was walking away from a distinguished 34-year career to protest human rights violations and threats to democracy in his country.

The decision was all the more surprising because only two days earlier, he had been named Caracas's ambassador to London. But Ambassador Alcalay said after what he called "the sad events" taking place in Venezuela, he could no longer defend the country's human rights records in U.N. forums.

"Especially being in a house like this, the United Nations, where we deal every day with this priority, the Venezuelan ambassador cannot continue going to a committee of human rights defending the human rights situation, and seeing sadly the situation that, in the press, in the news, you can see every day in my country," he said.

The ambassador's resignation came as Venezuela's opposition announced it would press ahead with street demonstrations to gain support for a recall vote on President Chavez's policies. At least seven people have been killed in recent days as Chavez opponents demonstrated in favor of the recall referendum.

Ambassador Alcalay had harsh words for the opposition leaders, saying their actions had, in his words "robbed Venezuelans of the right to affect change through the democratic process".

He also said he believes President Chavez has the legitimacy of votes behind him. But the ambassador said he had been hurt to see Venezuela suffering from what he called a violation of the fundamental principles for a civil servant working in diplomacy.

"There are ways to maintain order, but without killing people and putting people in jail, without putting politicians out, without torture, and this is why we fought in Latin America for democracy," he said.

Venezuela's Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel this week defended the government's tough response to opposition protests, saying the government was trying to restore order. He denied there had been any cases of torture.

President Chavez, who survived a coup attempt in 2002 and a general strike that crippled the economy last year, has warned he won't tolerate attempts to destabilize Venezuela, which is one of the world's biggest oil exporters.