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CARACAS, May 14 (Reuters) - Venezuela's opposition on Saturday slammed a state of emergency decreed by President Nicolas Maduro and vowed to press home efforts to remove the leftist leader this year amid a grim economic crisis.
Maduro on Friday night declared a 60-day state of emergency due to what he called plots from Venezuela and the United States to subvert him. He did not provide specifics.
The measure shows Maduro is panicking as a push for a recall referendum against him gains traction with tired, frustrated Venezuelans, opposition leaders said during a protest in Caracas.
"We're talking about a desperate president who is putting himself on the margin of legality and constitutionality," said Democratic Unity coalition leader Jesus Torrealba, adding Maduro was losing support within his own bloc.
"If this state of emergency is issued without consulting the National Assembly, we would technically be talking about a self-coup," he said as hundreds of supporters waved Venezuelan flags and placards reading "Recall referendum now!"
The opposition won control of the National Assembly in a December election, propelled by voter anger over shortages of food and medicines, raging inflation that has annihilated salaries, and rampant violent crime.
But Venezuela's Supreme Court has routinely backed Maduro in disputes with the legislature, depriving it of much sway.
As lootings and power cuts increase, a key poll shows nearly 70 percent of Venezuelans now say Maduro must go this year.
Maduro has vowed to see his term through, however, blasting opposition politicians as coup-mongering elitists seeking to emulate the impeachment of fellow leftist Dilma Rousseff in Brazil.
"There will be a social explosion if Maduro doesn't let the recall referendum happen," said protester Marisol Dos Santos, 34, an office worker at a supermarket where she says some 800 people queue up daily.
In one of the first steps towards revoking Maduro, a former union boss and bus driver, the opposition on May 2 submitted roughly 1.85 million signatures - far more than the roughly 200,000 required.
If they are validated, the opposition must then request another petition drive and gather some 4 million signatures to trigger a referendum.
But the opposition fear authorities are trying to delay a referendum until 2017, when the presidency would fall to the vice president, a post currently held by Socialist Party loyalist Aristobulo Isturiz.
"If you block this democratic path we don't know what might happen in this country," two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said at the demonstration, where he called for another march on Wednesday.
"Venezuela is a time bomb that can explode at any given moment." (Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Alistair Bell)