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EU countries recognise Guaidó as interim Venezuelan leader

The move comes after embattled President Nicolas Maduro rejected calls for fresh presidential elections.

Updated Feb 4th 2019, 4:28 PM

GERMANY, FRANCE, SPAIN and the UK have recognised Venezuela’s opposition chief Juan Guaidó as interim leader after President Nicolas Maduro rejected their ultimatum to announce new presidential elections.

Seven EU states had given Maduro a Sunday deadline to call presidential elections or they would recognise the 35-year-old National Assembly head as the interim president.

Crisis in Venezuela Juan Guaidó with his wife Fabiana Rosales during a rally in front of his supporters. Source: DPA/PA Images

A defiant Maduro said in an interview with Spanish television station Sexta that he would not “cave in to pressure” from those calling for his departure.

“Why does the European Union have to tell a country in the world that has already had elections that it has to repeat its presidential elections, because they were not won by their right-wing allies,” said Maduro, interviewed in Caracas.

“They are trying to corner us with ultimatums to force us into an extreme situation of confrontation,” Maduro said.

However, he supported plans for a meeting of Latin American and EU states in a “Contact Group” meeting in Montevideo next Thursday as it could lead to a “dialogue among Venezuelans to resolve our issues.”

And he called on Guaido for “face to face” talks, which the younger man has already rejected.

Venezuela Political Crisis Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores. Source: AP/PA Images

In a statement today, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokeswoman Martina Fietz said: “”We recognise Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela, tasked with starting the political transition and leading the country to free, transparent and credible elections.”

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement on Twitter today that the “UK alongside European allies now recognises @jguaido as interim constitutional president until credible elections can be held. Let’s hope this takes us closer to ending humanitarian crisis.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs has said that Ireland supports the EU’s call for “free, transparent and credible presidential elections, as well as further EU actions in the absence of an announcement on the organisation of fresh elections, including on the issue of recognition of the country’s leadership in line with article 233 of the Venezuela constitution,” according to a spokesperson.

“Ireland also supports the call made by the President of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, for free, fair and democratic elections. Ireland remains in close contact with EU colleagues to consider next steps.”

The Workers’ Party has condemned Ireland’s decision to back EU support for Guiadó. 

“What we are seeing now is the culmination of nearly a decade of Fine Gael government moving Ireland further and further from even a semblance of ‘neutrality’, the principle which drivers foreign policy according to our constitution,” Workers’ Party councillor Éilis Ryan said. 

“Of course, issues such as Shannon Airport’s use by the US military have undermined Irish neutrality for many years. But by actively supporting US efforts to depose the head of state of a Latin American nation, Ireland has now moved further into the NATO group of countries’ sphere of influence,” she said. 

Guaidó stunned the world on 23 January when he declared himself acting president at an opposition rally. Taking his authority from the constitution as National Assembly leader, he said that Maduro’s presidency was “illegitimate” as it was founded on flawed elections.

Guaidó is trying to force the socialist leader from power so he can set up a transitional government and hold new presidential elections.

Already recognised by the United States, Canada, Australia and several Latin American countries, he began to exercise authority for the first time this weekend, calling on the army to allow in humanitarian aid to a nation wracked by economic crisis.

“We are going to exercise our powers to deal with the crisis, restore democracy and achieve freedom,” Guaidó said yesterday on Twitter.

He was also expected to announce a date for the arrival of humanitarian aid from the US – a path Maduro believes will lead to a US-led military intervention.

Guaidó says up to 300,000 people are “at risk of death” in Venezuela for want of humanitarian aid.

In Washington, US President Donald Trump warned that military intervention remains “an option” for dealing with the crisis in oil-rich but impoverished Venezuela.

Yesterday, Maduro addressed troops on military exercises in Venezuela’s coastal northeast, calling on them for “maximum cohesion” a day after a top Air Force general publicly sided with Guaidó.

Venezuela Political Crisis An anti-government protester rests while blocking a highway with a small group of demonstrators. Source: AP/PA Images

The opposition “want to deliver the country in pieces to the gringo empire and the local oligarchies,” Maduro told the soldiers.

‘Let’s have elections’

Tens of thousands of people turned out on Saturday for competing shows of support for Guaidó and for Maduro who was sworn in January 10 to a disputed second six-year term.

During the protest, Guaidó announced the installation of collection centers for medicine and food – items lacking in Venezuela – in neighbouring Colombia and Brazil.

Speaking at a pro-regime demonstration marking 20 years since his predecessor Hugo Chavez came to power, Maduro reiterated his call to bring forward elections for the opposition-held national assembly.

“They want to bring forward elections, let’s have elections,” he said.

Under Maduro’s stewardship, oil-dependent Venezuela has lurched into an economic crisis that has left the country suffering from hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine.

But at his rally on Saturday, he called the opposition “imperialist beggars,” claiming a US pledge to deliver $20 million in aid would precede military intervention.

‘Decisive’

Guaidó also called for a new demonstration on 12 February, and another protest to push for the entry of aid.

Venezuela Political Crisis A supporter of President Maduro holds a framed image of the late President Hugo Chavez during a rally in Caracas. Source: AP/PA Images

Speaking at the European Union’s headquarters in the east of the capital, he said this month “should be decisive.”

All eyes are on the military, which has so far been Maduro’s main pillar of support, but there have been signs of unrest in the ranks.

On 21 January, a group of 27 soldiers rose up against Maduro in Caracas. Although that was quickly suppressed, it helped spark a week of protests in which 40 people were killed in clashes with security forces, with hundreds more arrested, according to the United Nations.

Meanwhile, the 14-nation Lima Group – made up of Canada and Latin American countries – meets in Ottawa on Monday. Eleven of its members have recognised Guaido.

© – AFP, 2019 with reporting by Hayley Halpin

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