Maduro rejects EU countries' ultimatum for new elections
Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuelan president, yesterday dismissed an ultimatum from five European countries giving him eight days to call new elections, describing the move as "complete insolence".
Britain, France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands said on Saturday that if Mr Maduro did not call a vote within that time-frame, they would join others in formally recognising the head of Venezuela's parliament as the legitimate president.
In his first interview since the intense leadership struggle began last week, Mr Maduro branded the European ultimatum a "mistake".
"Venezuela is not tied to Europe. This is complete insolence," he told CNN's Turkish channel.
Regional powers such as the US, Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Argentina announced last week that they would recognise Juan Guaido as the legitimate president after the 35-year-old opposition leader swore himself into office at a rally in Caracas.
But other countries, such as Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Cuba and Turkey, have come out in support of Mr Maduro, accusing Washington of leading an imperialist intervention in the South American nation.
On Saturday, Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, told the UN that countries must "pick a side", urging them to also recognise Mr Guaido.
"We call on all members of the Security Council to support Venezuela's democratic transition and interim president Guaido's role," he said.
The battle for international loyalties mirrors an arguably more crucial one within Venezuela's government and military ranks.
Mr Guaido has been calling for the armed forces to defect, and while the top brass has remained firm, on Saturday a leading military envoy to the US announced his defection.
In a video recorded at the embassy in Washington, Col Jose Luis Silva said called on "my brothers in the armed forces" to recognise Mr Guaido "as the only legitimate president". He told Reuters that a consular official in Houston and another in a US city also recognised Mr Guaido. The opposition leader said that "many more" Venezuelan diplomatic staff around the world had promised to shift allegiance to him.
Mr Guaido claims that the re-election of Mr Maduro in May was a sham, and as he was not sworn in by the national assembly, but instead the government-stacked supreme court, he does not have constitutional legitimacy as president.
According to sources, Mr Guaido plans to seek funding from the IMF for his parallel government. But he will need more defections at home to ultimately move into the Miraflores presidential palace.
Yesterday, opposition politicians led local communities in approaching military barracks and handing over a proposal for amnesty for crimes committed during the rule of Mr Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez.
Meanwhile, Mr Maduro attended army exercises, met with troops and watched as tanks fired into a hillside. (© Daily Telegraph London)