Who backs whom in Venezuela crisis


Major European nations joined the United States on Monday in recognising opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate head of state, while a separate regional bloc meeting kept up the pressure on socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

The coordinated move to recognize Guaido by France, Spain, Germany, Britain, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and Luxembourg comes after the expiry of an eight-day ultimatum for Maduro to call a new election.

Maduro, for his part, stood defiant, accusing the United States of preparing a coup in the South American country and rejecting a USA -backed effort to send emergency food and medicine into his country.

Maduro is facing calls from a growing chorus of nations, including some of Venezuela's neighbours, to resign in the wake of last year's disputed presidential vote in which he won re-election.

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the European states' recognition of Guaido, and urged others to follow suit.

Maduro's government, overseeing an economic collapse that has prompted 3 million Venezuelans to flee the country, lashed out at the European Union nations, saying their move would affect relations with Caracas.

Guterres said he was following the crisis in Venezuela "with a lot of concern", adding that he had discussed the various initiatives put forward with the countries involved.

"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.

Guaido allies plan to take a large quantity of food and medicine donated by the United States, multilateral organizations and non-profit groups across the Colombian border into the Venezuelan state of Tachira this week, according to a person directly involved in the effort.

Juan Guaido, Venezuelan opposition leader and parliament speaker, whose appointment to that position had been cancelled by the country's Supreme Court, declared himself interim president at a rally in the country's capital of Caracas on January 23.

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Guaido's backers say he is the legitimate leader because he is president of Venezuela's congress, which they regard as the only lawfully elected power in the country.

Monday's declaration came after Guaido made a larger-than-life appeal to Canada and its Western Hemisphere partners to end the "usurpation" of democracy in his country.

The global split over Venezuela has left the United Nations in a quandary and Guterres' comments suggested that the world body would remain on the sidelines for now.

It also accused Ottawa of siding with U.S. President Donald Trump and American foreign policy.

Defying European pressure, Maduro shrugged off an ultimatum by EU states demanding early elections.

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez steps out of the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain, September 12, 2018.

In an interview that aired Monday with Italy's Sky TG24 he said that he had written Pope Francis asking for help in fostering dialogue with the opposition.

The worldwide pressure on Venezuelan leader Maduro intensified on Monday as a host of European Union nations declared his rival Guaido as interim president. "I hope to receive a positive response", he said. It aims to address the crisis in Venezuela and is due to hold its first meeting in Uruguay on Thursday.

Guaido lost no time Monday in building on broadened worldwide support, with his fledgling alternative administration announcing February 14 talks in Washington on responding to "the largest hemispheric humanitarian crisis in modern history".

Santos Silva, the Portuguese diplomat, said the Contact group wants to end Venezuela's political stalemate through the ballot box, preventing a civil war or an "illegitimate foreign intervention".