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Venezuela bonds crash as political standoff escalates

(Adds bond trader and research report quotes, details on pending debt payments)

March 31 (Reuters) - Bonds issued by the Venezuelan government crashed on Friday as political tensions escalated following the annulment of the country's legislature by its high court earlier this week, a move that ignited protests and international condemnation.

The price on Venezuela's benchmark $4 billion bond maturing in September 2027 with a 9.25 percent coupon fell by more than 3.5 cents to around 46.4 cents on the dollar, Thomson Reuters data showed.

Its yield, which moves in the opposite direction of price, shot up by 1.55 percentage points to nearly 23 percent, the highest since last August. It was the largest one-day rise in yield since October.

The country's high court late Wednesday stated it was assuming Congress' role in a ruling authorizing President Nicolas Maduro to create oil joint ventures without the previously mandated congressional approval.

The move was met with international condemnation and street protests, and on Friday the fallout intensified when Venezuela's attorney general broke ranks with Maduro and rebuked the judiciary for its move.

Some longer-dated bonds were even lower in price. The less widely traded March 2038s, with a 7 percent coupon, were bid at 40 cents on the dollar, down from 42.6 cents on Thursday. Their yield rose to 18.22 percent from 17.17 percent.

"People saw risk worsen and went out to sell. But there are some people buying, few, but they're buying," said a bond trader in Caracas, asking to remain anonymous to avoid hurting business. "I hope they pick up again given there are interest and capital payments soon."

The country faces payments of nearly $3 billion in April on bonds issued by the government and Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, the state-sponsored oil company. Most of that is due around mid-month as PDVSA's April 2017 5.25 percent note matures, requiring a combined interest and principal payment of $2.5 billion.

Maduro's government has pledged to remain current on its credit. It faces another big block of payments in both October and November, though one research firm said it was optimistic it would be able to meet those obligations.

"While most market participants seem confident about state oil company PDVSA's ability to pay its April maturities, many investors remain worried about the October/November payments," analysts at Oxford Research wrote in a report on Friday. "Our analysis shows that although the financial situation remains very tight, the country can bridge its external financing gap during 2017." (Writing by Dan Burns; Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer and Corina Rodriguez Pons in Caracas and Sujata Rao-Coverley in London; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Chizu Nomiyama)