Santiago (AFP) - Chile said Tuesday it has granted diplomatic asylum to five Venezuelans who took refuge in its embassy in Caracas, amid political turmoil as President Nicolas Maduro moves to consolidate power.
The five were among a group of 33 jurists who had been named to the Venezuelan Supreme Court by the opposition-controlled National Assembly on July 31 in defiance of the government.
The same day, the government issued orders for the arrest of all 33, and the next day one of them was seized and taken before a military tribunal.
In the days that followed, the five granted asylum by Chile made it to its embassy seeking protection. An opposition politician, Roberto Enriquez, also has taken refuge at the embassy but he was not among the five granted asylum.
"The time has come to honor our commitment and our solidarity," Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz said in announcing the decision.
"The government of Chile has decided to grant these five Venezuelan citizens diplomatic asylum."
Chile has asked the Venezuelan government for safe conduct passes out of the country for the five, he said.
The decision came a day after Colombia offered political asylum to Venezuela's former attorney general, Luisa Ortega, a Maduro critic who fled the country after being ousted from office.
Maduro has installed an all-powerful Constituent Assembly packed with loyalists to rule the country while it rewrites the constitution.
The assembly, which is not recognized by Chile and other governments in the region, has proclaimed its authority to legislate, pushing aside the National Assembly.
It also has signaled its intention to go after government opponents it deems responsible for months of street protests against Maduro.
The economy of the once-rich oil exporter is on the brink of collapse, with shortages of food and medicine and skyrocketing inflation fueling opposition demands for early elections and Maduro's removal from office.
Some 125 people have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces since April 1, and hundreds of Maduro opponents have been detained.
"We continue hoping that the crisis situation that the Venezuelan people is living through be resolved as soon as possible, that democratic order be restored, and that human rights be respected by peaceful means," Munoz said.