Venezuela's National Assembly has approved President Nicolás Maduro's request for expanded powers, which he says he needs to protect the socialist South American country from the "imperialist" U.S.
His request to enact laws for up to six months without consulting the National Assembly was given initial approval by lawmakers Tuesday. It's expected to gain final approval Sunday.
Critics condemned the move as a power grab and an attempt to distract Venezuelans from shortages and recession.
Maduro requested the powers after the U.S. declared Venezuela a national security threat and imposed sanctions Monday on a handful of top Venezuelan officials accused of human rights violations. In a nationally televised speech that night, Maduro said, "President Barack Obama, representing the U.S. imperialist elite, has decided to undergo the task of overthrowing my government and intervening in Venezuela in order to control it."
Maduro says he would use the decree powers to ensure Venezuela is never caught off guard by threats posed by the U.S. government.
Washington, which endorsed a short-lived 2002 coup against Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chávez, has repeatedly denied it is conspiring against Venezuela's government.
"The goal of these sanctions is to persuade the government of Venezuela to change its ways, not to remove that government," State Department Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson tweeted.
U.S. sanctions have allowed Maduro to play the nationalist card employed by his charismatic mentor Chávez, whose populist style and focus on social welfare made him hugely popular among the poor for most of his rule from 1999 to 2013.
But Venezuelans are increasingly fed up with soaring prices and shortages, from milk to car parts.
The opposition — which agrees with the sanctions but doesn't want to be associated with outside interference — hopes for a protest vote in its favor in upcoming Assembly elections.
Analysts said the spat with the U.S. may increase Maduro's popularity, if only temporarily. Venezuela's allies have been supportive, with Cuba mocking the U.S. moves despite its rapprochement with Washington.
Maduro was first granted decree powers shortly after taking office in 2013. Those expired last year.
Last month protests erupted across Venezuela to mark the anniversary of unrest the year before that was described by Maduro as an attempted coup encouraged by the U.S. Embassy.
The unrest saw thousands of opposition supporters demanding Maduro's resignation and protesting over the OPEC nation's faltering economy.
Al Jazeera and wire services