A US congressional committee has agreed a bill that would impose sanctions on those responsible for human rights abuses against anti-government protesters in Venezuela.

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs' vote on Friday, to be considered by the full House of Representatives at a later date, would freeze US accounts and properties of those targeted, as well as cancelling US visas.

Ed Royce, the committee's Republican chairman, was optimistic about the bill's prospects of passage.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican who sponsored the bill, said the measure "sends a strong message to [President] Maduro [Venezuela's president] that the United States Congress is well aware of the ongoing abuses perpetrated by his regime, and that they will not go unpunished".

A small group of protesters gathered in Washington calling for the sanctions to be passed.

At least 42 people have died and hundreds of others have been injured since students and other opponents began protests in February against Maduro and his government's policies.

Maduro dismissed the sanctions, saying: "What fools they are! Idiots! Take out your sanctions. The people of Simon Bolivar are not stopped by the sanctions of any empire."

The US Senate foreign relations committee is also considering a similar measure.

The Obama administration argues that, for the moment, sanctions are not an appropriate response in light of talks between the Venezuelan government and opposition leaders.

Meanwhile, Venezuelan authorities have released 16 of 243 people arrested in raids against protesters earlier this week.

Source: Agencies