Venezuela sends letter of protest to US

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez speaks during a press conference in Caracas on March 27, 2015 (AFP Photo/Federico Parra)

Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela said Friday it has sent a letter of protest to the United States over Washington's new sanctions on officials accused of an opposition crackdown.

Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said Venezuela had sent an "emphatic note of protest" against President Barack Obama's March 9 executive order, which imposed an asset freeze and US travel ban on seven senior Venezuelan officials.

Obama's order declared Venezuela a "threat to the national security of the United States" -- language that US officials said was a formality for imposing sanctions, but to which Venezuela has strongly objected.

The order "interferes in Venezuela's internal affairs by labeling (the country) an unusual and extraordinary threat," Rodriguez told journalists.

Venezuela did not release the contents of the letter, which the foreign minister said was delivered to the US embassy in Caracas.

Relations between the two countries have been on a downward spiral since Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused Washington in February of sponsoring a coup attempt against him.

His government arrested several people in the aftermath of the allegation, including the opposition mayor of Caracas.

Obama signed the new sanctions in response, drawing a furious reaction from Maduro, who ordered 10 days of military exercises to counter the "imperialist threat."

Maduro also asked Venezuela's National Assembly to grant him the power to rule by decree on defense and public safety matters -- a request voted through by his legislative majority on March 15.