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European nations give Venezuela's Maduro ultimatum

  • Published at 11:27 pm January 26th, 2019
Juan Guaido-Venezuela
Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido speaks during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, January 25, 2019 Reuters

The ultimatum comes as international pressure mounts on the Maduro regime to agree to a new vote

Spain, France, Britain and Germany gave embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro an ultimatum ahead of an UN Security Council meeting on Saturday, saying they would recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as president unless he calls elections within eight days.

The ultimatum comes as international pressure mounts on the Maduro regime to agree to a new vote, after the United States, Canada and major South American players recognized Guaido, who proclaimed himself acting president of Venezuela during massive street rallies this week.

After four years of economic pain that has left Venezuelans short of food and medicine and driven more than two million to flee, Guaido is trying to oust Maduro following controversial elections that saw the socialist leader sworn in for a second term.

"If within eight days there are no fair, free and transparent elections called in Venezuela, Spain will recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuelan president" so that he himself can call such polls, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in a televised announcement.

French President Emmanuel Macron followed suit in a tweet, saying "the Venezuelan people must be able to freely decide on their future," as did German government spokeswoman Martina Fietz.

"After banning opposition candidates, ballot box stuffing and counting irregularities in a deeply flawed election, it is clear (president) Nicolas Maduro is not the legitimate leader of Venezuela," British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement on Twitter on Saturday.

Guaido quickly welcomed the support from the European powerhouses.

"There continues to be progress in the European Union for the recognition and full support of our legitimate and constitutional struggle," he tweeted.

Fears for Guaido

Sanchez insisted that Spain, which has some 200,000 of its nationals living in Venezuela, is "not looking to impose or remove governments in Venezuela, we want democracy and free elections in Venezuela."

Maduro's reelection last year was contested by the opposition and rejected by the US, EU and UN as a sham -- but he has until now retained the loyalty of the powerful military.

Guaido, who has managed to galvanise a previously divided opposition, this week attempted to attract military support by offering an amnesty to anyone who disavows Maduro, with no luck so far.

In a Skype interview with Univision late Thursday he went one step further by suggesting Maduro could be offered amnesty if he agrees to step down.

He has however rejected an offer of talks with Maduro, saying he won't attend a "fake dialogue" on a crisis that has left 26 dead in clashes this week between anti-Maduro activists and security forces.

Guaido has also called for a "major demonstration."

Maduro, for his part, called for a "popular rebellion against the coup" on the streets of Venezuela.

The Inter-American Human Rights Commission late Friday issued a statement warning that Guaido's life and health were in danger given the high political tension in the country.

Washington's support for Guaido led Maduro to close the US embassy and consulates and break diplomatic ties.

US diplomats in Venezuela have until Saturday to leave the country, but Washington has refused to fully comply fully with the exit order.

Guaido is instead urging the US diplomats to stay and keep the embassy's doors open.