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Venezuela: Maduro expels EU ambassador after Brussels imposes sanctions

Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro has ordered the European Union's ambassador to leave the country, hours after the EU hit several more Venezuelan officials with sanctions.

The ambassador, Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa, has been given 72 hours to pack her bags.

On Monday the European Council added 11 leading officials to its list of those subject to restrictive measures for "undermining democracy and the rule of law". It accused them of acting against the National Assembly which is led by opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

Maduro announced the ambassador's expulsion in an address on state television, saying those who "can't respect Venezuela... should leave it". He accused the EU, which has endorsed Guaidó as Venezuela's interim president, of recognising "a puppet as president".

"What power do they assume they have? Who are they to sanction? Who are they to try to impose themselves on the threat? Who are they? Enough, enough. This is why I have decided to give 72 hours to the European Union ambassador in Caracas to leave our country," Maduro said, before repeating accusations of "European colonialism".

The European Council -- made up largely of national leaders -- said the individuals targeted were guilty of stripping several assembly members, including Guaidó -- of parliamentary immunity, and of carrying out politically motivated prosecutions.

Those on the list include Luis Parra, who heads an assembly rival to the one headed by Guaidó.

Earlier this month Venezuela's Supreme Court, which is loyal to Maduro, created a new elections commission which critics say is stacked with the president's supporters. It comes ahead of parliamentary elections expected this year.

Last year Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president and has been backed by the EU and the United States.

The EU decision brings to 36 the total number of Venezuelan individuals under sanctions, which includes a travel ban and a freeze on assets.

European leaders said they would "continue working to foster a peaceful democratic solution in Venezuela, through inclusive and credible legislative elections".

The EU first introduced measures against Venezuela in November 2017, which it said were not designed to harm the country's population.

Venezuela is a once-wealthy oil nation experiencing a declining economic and political crisis that has driven roughly five million people from the country amid shortages of basic goods, soaring inflation and broken hospitals.

While the United States has led the push to oust Nicolás Maduro with sanctions, leaders in Europe and Canada have also thrown their support behind Guaidó, in a coalition of nearly 60 nations.

However, Maduro remains in power with control over the military and international support from allies including China, Russia, Iran and Cuba.

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