CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela accused France on Wednesday of joining an "imperialist" campaign after President Emmanuel Macron portrayed the widely criticized socialist government as dictatorial.
Adding to criticism from Washington, the United Nations and major Latin American nations, Macron on Tuesday called President Nicolas Maduro's administration "a dictatorship trying to survive at the cost of unprecedented humanitarian distress."
Many countries are outraged at the Venezuelan government's overriding of the opposition-led congress, crackdown on protests, jailing of hundreds of foes and failure to allow the entry of foreign humanitarian aid to ease a severe economic crisis.
Authorities say local opposition leaders want to topple Maduro in a coup with U.S. support, but its new Constituent Assembly will guarantee peace.
"Comments like this are an attack on Venezuelan institutions and seem to form part of the permanent imperialist obsession with attacking our people," the government said in a communique responding to Macron.
"The French head-of-state's affirmations show a deep lack of knowledge of the reality of Venezuela, whose people live in complete peace," the statement said.
It added that the assembly and upcoming state elections demonstrated the health of local democracy.
Leaders of the fractious opposition coalition boycotted the July 30 election of the assembly, branding it an affront to democracy.
They called for an early presidential election, which Maduro would likely lose as his popularity has sunk along with an economy blighted by triple-digit inflation and food shortages.
France's foreign ministry on Wednesday reiterated Macron's comments and said it was studying the best way to accompany all initiatives that would enable credible dialogue that included regional countries.
"It is up to the Venezuelan authorities to give quick pledges in terms of respecting rule of law and fundamental freedoms," spokeswoman Agnes Romatet-Espagne told reporters in a daily briefing. "The European Union and France will evaluate their relationship with Venezuela on this basis."
(Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne in Caracas, Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris; Editing by Girish Gupta/W Simon/Ken Ferris)