Brussels has called for Venezuela’s self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido to be respected but has stopped short of explicitly backing him in the role.
Congress chief Guaido swore himself in as interim head of state on Wednesday and won immediate support from the US, Canada and right-leaning governments in South America.
It comes after protests against incumbent Nicolas Maduro, who has faced growing criticism after securing a second presidential term in a widely-boycotted election last year that was marred by widespread allegations of vote rigging.
Maduro has also overseen an economic crisis that has forced millions of Venezuelans to flee, mostly to other South American countries.
The EU, responding to Guaido’s move, said his “civil rights, freedom and safety” should be “observed and fully respected”.
What else did the European Union say?
“On 23 January, the people of Venezuela have massively called for democracy and the possibility to freely determine their own destiny,” the EU said in a statement. “These voices cannot be ignored.
“The EU strongly calls for the start of an immediate political process leading to free and credible elections, in conformity with the Constitutional order.
“The EU fully supports the national assembly as the democratically elected institution whose powers need to be restored and respected.
“Violence and the excessive use of force by security forces are completely unacceptable, and will for sure not resolve the crisis. The Venezuelan people have the right to peacefully demonstrate, to freely choose its leaders and decide its future.”
Who is backing Juan Guaido?
US President Donald Trump quickly backed Guaido as the interim leader and said he would use "the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy".
"We encourage other Western Hemisphere governments to recognise National Assembly President Guaido as the Interim President of Venezuela, and we will work constructively with them in support of his efforts to restore constitutional legitimacy," Trump added in a statement.
"We continue to hold the illegitimate Maduro regime directly responsible for any threats it may pose to the safety of the Venezuelan people."
Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru and Argentina were among other countries to recognise Guaido as interim president.
'Stand tall my brother Maduro': who is supporting Venezuela's incumbent president?
Russia said Maduro was the country's legitimate president and claimed the US' recognition of Guaido was a bid to usurp power in Venezuela. Moscow went on to warn Washington of the "catastrophic consequences" of military intervention.
Turkey, China and Venezuela's leftist allies Cuba and Bolivia are among other countries to voice support for Maduro.
"My brother Maduro! Stand tall, we stand by you!" Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for Turkey's president, quoted Erdogan as telling Maduro.
"Under the leadership of President Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey will maintain its principled stance against all coup attempts. #WeAreMADURO."
How did we get here?
Guaido's declaration came after the Venezuelan National Assembly on Tuesday announced its takeover of the executive power.
Calling on Venezuelans to protest, the body demanded the establishment of a "transitional government" to organise new elections.
Venezuelan opposition sympathisers had been urging Guaido to assume the presidency since Maduro was inaugurated for a second term earlier this month.
Guaido, 35, is a newcomer on the national scene who was elected to head Congress at the turn of the year.
He had previously said he was willing to replace Maduro if he had the support of the military, with the aim of then calling for free elections.
His declaration on Wednesday came amid mass street protests, with hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans taking to the streets in anti-Maduro demonstrations, demanding he step down.
How has Maduro reacted?
Maduro remained defiant on Wednesday, calling on the country's military to maintain unity and discipline.
"We will triumph over this as well, we will come out victorious," he told supporters outside the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas.
Venezuelan Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino said via Twitter that the country's armed forces disavow any president who is self-proclaimed or imposed by "dark interests."