European nations back Venezuelan opposition leader

Several European Union nations on Monday joined the US in backing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s interim president – increasing the pressure on beleaguered President Nicolas Maduro to step down.

The recognition by France, Spain, Germany, Britain, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Lithuania came after the expiration of an eight-day ultimatum for Maduro to call a new election.

The countries urged Guaido, 35, who leads the National Assembly, to hold free and fair elections as soon as possible.

“We are working for the return of full democracy in Venezuela: human rights, elections and no more political prisoners,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said.

He said Spain, which has a sizable Venezuelan community, also is working on a humanitarian aid program for Venezuela, where shortages of basic items are acute.

Critics of the hard-left Socialist Maduro – who is accused of running the OPEC nation of 30 million people like a dictatorship and wrecking its economy — blame the Venezuelan government’s mismanagement for the lack of food and medical supplies.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a visit to Japan that Guaido “is the legitimate interim president.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian appealed for an early presidential election that will ensure “the Venezuelan crisis ends peacefully.”

In Sweden, Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said the election that brought Maduro to power was neither free nor fair and told Swedish SVT that Venezuelans “now must get new, free and fair elections instead.”

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Venezuelans had suffered enough.

“The oppression of the illegitimate, kleptocratic Maduro regime must end,” he said.

Meanwhile, Italy’s 5-Star Movement, which makes up half of the ruling coalition, dissented from the European stance, saying it would never recognize self-declared leaders.

“Handing out ultimatums, sanctions, freezing Venezuelan goods … It would mean opening the road to a military intervention,” Alessandro Di Battista, a prominent 5-Star figure, said Sunday.

Maduro, 56, stood firm and lashed out at the EU and the Trump administration, which also has put the squeeze on the Venezuelan government by imposing sanctions on oil exports and demanding Maduro’s departure.

“I don’t accept ultimatums from anybody,” Maduro told Spanish TV channel La Sexta. “Why should the EU be giving ultimatums to a country?”

He added that Venezuela is being “threatened by the biggest powers in the world.”

Maduro also claimed that “the military option is on Donald Trump’s table.”

“The United States wants to return to the 20th century of military coups, subordinate puppet governments and the looting of resources,” he said.

Russia and China, which have poured billions of dollars of investment and loans into Venezuela, are supporting Maduro in an extension of their geopolitical clashes with Washington.

With Post Wires

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