Tuesday 16 July 2019

Maduro accuses US of ordering Colombia to assassinate him as global tensions rise over Venezuela

Sanctions: Donald Trump has ordered action against Maduro. Photo: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Sanctions: Donald Trump has ordered action against Maduro. Photo: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Vivian Sequera

Venezuela's socialist leader Nicolas Maduro has accused US President Donald Trump of ordering his assassination while his main ally Russia called for mediation.

The fight to control Venezuela - which has the world's largest oil reserves - has intensified with new US sanctions and legal moves that may lead to opposition leader Juan Guaido's arrest.

In an interview with Moscow's RIA news agency, Mr Maduro (56), facing the biggest challenge to his rule since replacing Hugo Chavez six years ago, said Mr Trump had ordered neighbouring Colombia to murder him.

"Donald Trump has without doubt given an order to kill me and has told the government of Colombia and the Colombian mafia to kill me," Mr Maduro said, reprising a constant accusation of his and Chavez's over the years.

Defiant: Nicolas Maduro gestures during a meeting with soldiers in Caracas yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Defiant: Nicolas Maduro gestures during a meeting with soldiers in Caracas yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Bogotá and Washington have routinely denied that, while foes say Mr Maduro uses such accusations as a smokescreen when in trouble.

However, speculation of military action against him was fuelled this week when Trump adviser John Bolton carried a notepad with the words "5,000 troops to Colombia".

In an early morning tweet, Mr Trump warned US citizens against travelling to Venezuela, given the unrest.

Russia, which like China has loaned and invested billions of dollars in Opec member Venezuela, called on Mr Guaido - who has declared himself interim president - to drop his demand for a snap election and accept mediation.

However, given the failure of previous rounds of dialogue, including one led by the Vatican, opponents are suspicious, believing Mr Maduro uses them to quell protests and buy himself time.

Venezuela's Supreme Court has imposed a travel ban on Mr Guaido and frozen his bank accounts in apparent retaliation for oil sanctions imposed by the United States that are expected to severely hit an already collapsing economy.

The US is Venezuela's largest crude importer, ahead of India and China, but the new measures limit transactions between US companies and state oil company PDVSA.

Oil prices held steady as Venezuela supply concerns were offset by the bleak global economic outlook.

Mr Guaido, the eldest of six children from a working-class family who emerged from virtual anonymity as a political activist, is recognised as president by the United States and most Western nations.

The 35-year-old president of the National Assembly says Mr Maduro fraudulently won a second term last year and is offering an amnesty to military officials.

Mr Maduro still has the support of the top military brass and is unlikely to back down unless that changes. "I won legitimately," he said. "If the imperialists want a new election, let them wait until 2025."

With the crisis deepening a showdown between Washington and Moscow across other global flashpoints, Mr Maduro expressed "pleasure and gratitude" for Russian President Vladimir Putin's help.

Sources have told Reuters private military contractors who do secret missions for Moscow were in Venezuela.

A former union leader, bus driver and foreign minister, Mr Maduro has overseen a shrinking economy and the migration of three million Venezuelans fleeing shortages and hyperinflation.

Irish Independent

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