Boris Johnson has compared the Venezuelan President to a “dictator of an evil regime” as Jeremy Corbyn faces calls to condemn him personally.
The Foreign Secretary stepped up the war of words over the South American state where families of British embassy staff have been withdrawn and more than 100 people have been killed in violent clashes.
The US slapped sanctions on President Nicolas Maduro after his ruling socialist party was given sweeping powers in a controversial election on Sunday.
Critics claim the vote was illegitimate. Data seen by Reuters claims turnout was only 3.7million by 5.30pm, despite authorities saying 8.1million voted throughout the day.
Violence has flared up and two opposition leaders were seized from their homes at night and jailed, supposedly for planning to flee the country and making political statements.
Foreign Secretary Mr Johnson tweeted the Mr Maduro was “acting like a dictator of an evil regime and has destroyed Venezuelan economy, eroded human rights and imprisoned thousands.”
He added: “Hundreds have died during protests against Maduro’s actions. Political prisoners must be released and rights, freedoms and democracy respected.”
Labour raised concerns over the worsening situation in Venezuela in a statement by Shadow Foreign Office Minister Liz McInnes on Monday.
She said “human rights, free speech and the rule of law” must be protected, adding: “We urge everyone in Venezuela, on all sides, to end the bloodshed immediately.
“The outcome of this election cannot be treated as a mandate for a further escalation of repression, division, and violence.
“President Maduro must also respond personally to the legitimate concerns of the international community about the increasingly authoritarian nature of his rule and the growing hardship facing his people.
“If he believes those concerns are misplaced, it is up to him to prove them wrong, not through his words, but through his deeds.”
However, Jeremy Corbyn, who is thought to be on holiday in eastern Europe and will return next week, is now facing pressure from other MPs to condemn the regime personally.
He has repeatedly praised Venezuela in the past. In 2013, after the long-standing President’s death, he said Hugo Chavez showed ” the poor matter and wealth can be shared” and “he made massive contributions to Venezuela & a very wide world”.
In June 2015 Mr Corbyn said Venezuela’s achievements in jobs, education and housing were a “cause for celebration” and “very powerful forces are trying to destroy all of that”.
Tories have urged Mr Corbyn to condemn Venezuela, with one, Sir Alan Duncan, claiming it was “extraordinary” not to “hear a squeak” from the Labour leader.
Theresa May, who has also been on holiday, has not issued a statement this week personally condemning Mr Maduro.
But two Labour MPs have joined the calls for Mr Corbyn to condemn him – Angela Smith and Graham Jones, who the Times reported are both part of a new parliamentary group on Venezuela.
A spokeswoman for the Labour leader said: “The Labour Party ‘s statement on Monday made clear our position on the importance of the respect for the rule of law and human rights.
“We’re watching the situation and developments in Venezuela closely.”