The Venezuelan parliament has approved a law giving President Nicolas Maduro the power to legislate by decree for nine months in the face of what the president described as threats by the US government.

The so-called "anti-imperialist" law will be in effect from the time it is published in Venezuela's Official Gazette until December 31.

Maduro requested the expanded powers in response to new US sanctions on Venezuelan officials accused of human rights violations.

Critics of Venezuela's government have called the move a power grab.

On Saturday, nearly 100,000 members of the armed forces began military exercises across the South American country. Thousands of people rallied in solidarity with the president as the 10-day military drill kicked off.

Washington slapped seven Venezuelan officials with sanctions as US President Barack Obama signed an executive order calling Caracas a security threat. The officials will be denied US visas and have their US assets frozen.

In a statement, White House called on Venezuela to release all political prisoners, including "dozens of students".

The leaders of South America's leftist governments have come out in support of Venezuela, while Washington has denied Maduro's claim that it is seeking to undermine his government and urged him to focus on Venezuela's domestic problems, including food shortages and soaring inflation.

Source: AP