BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union imposed economic and travel sanctions Monday on seven senior Venezuelan officials accused of human rights abuses or breaching the rule of law in the crisis-ridden country.
The move comes after U.S. authorities levied sanctions against dozens of Venezuela's leaders, including President Nicolas Maduro, and was adopted "as the political, social and economic situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate," EU headquarters said in a statement.
The targeted officials rejected the sanctions announced the same day that students at a university in the capital of Caracas clashed with police.
The most prominent official on the European list is Diosdado Cabello, the head of Venezuela's ruling socialist party who is considered to be the nation's second most powerful leader. Cabello has not been targeted by U.S. sanctions.
Other officials on the list include: Tarek William Saab, Venezuela's attorney general; interior minister Nestor Luis Reverol; Supreme Court president Maikel Jose Moreno; National Guard Cmdr. Antonio Jose Benavides; elections chief Tibisay Lucena Ramirez; and head of the national intelligence agency Gustavo Enrique Gonzalez.
The EU officials said those sanctioned "are involved in the non-respect of democratic principles or the rule of law as well as in the violation of human rights."
They will have their assets frozen and be banned from traveling in Europe.
In a broadcast on state television, communications minister Jorge Rodriguez rejected the sanctions by the "elite" in Europe against Venezuelans he called honorable and decent "patriots."
"Venezuelan democracy is solid," he said. "There's no country that exercises it as fully as Venezuela." Venezuela was once one of Latin America's wealthiest countries, sitting atop the world's largest oil reserves.
Mismanagement and a recent drop in global oil prices have left it in a deepening economic and political crisis, marked by shortages of food and medicine.
The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned 51 Venezuelan officials, including four current and former military officers, in an attempt to weaken Maduro's grip on power.
Dozens of students at Central University of Venezuela threw stones and gasoline bombs Monday at police in riot gear, who returned the aggression firing rubber bullets and tear gas.
A student who covered his face said they were protesting the death of Oscar Perez, a rebel police officer who called for an uprising against Maduro's government.
Perez, 36, was killed a week earlier with six others in a clash with government security forces. "The politicians abandoned us," the masked student said. "They literally left us here and we have to fight for what we truly believe — for the conviction of our country's freedom."