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CARACAS — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday asked parliament for decree powers in response to new U.S. sanctions, in a move opposition critics slammed as a power-grab.

If as expected the government-controlled National Assembly approves his request for an "Enabling Law," it would be the second time the 52-year-old successor to Hugo Chavez has gained these expanded powers since winning election in 2013.

"I've come to ask for an Enabling Law to confront the aggression of the most powerful country in the world, the United States, against this beautiful nation," Maduro told parliament. "This is a law that will prepare our country, may we never be caught off guard,” he added.

Maduro’s adversaries say he is using the worst flare-up with Washington during his nearly two-year rule to justify autocratic governance, sidetrack parliament and distract attention from a shrinking economy and chronic product shortages. "Nicolas, are you requesting the Enabling Law to make soap, nappies and medicines appear, to lower inflation?" satirized opposition leader Henrique Capriles. "It's another smokescreen."

Confirming Venezuela as Washington's No. 1 adversary in Latin America after a rapprochement with Cuba, the United States has taken its gloves off against Maduro, characterizing his government as a security threat and sanctioning seven officials. In terminology that has also been used for measures against nations such as Iran and Syria, the U.S. government declared a "national emergency"due to "the unusual and extraordinary threat" from Venezuela.

IN-DEPTH

— Reuters