Thursday 19 September 2019

White House warns Russia not to meddle in Venezuela power battle

Face to face: A supporter (left) and an opponent of Nicolás Maduro argue outside the Venezuelan embassy in Mexico. Photo: Getty Images
Face to face: A supporter (left) and an opponent of Nicolás Maduro argue outside the Venezuelan embassy in Mexico. Photo: Getty Images

Ben Riley-Smith

THE Trump administration warned Russia to stop meddling in Venezuela yesterday and talked up likely US military action as protesters and security forces clashed for a second day.

Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said that military involvement of some form was "possible" as he accused the Kremlin of convincing embattled president Nicolas Maduró to remain in post.

John Bolton, the US national security adviser, raised the possibility of sanctions as he told Russia publicly that it had no business in the Venezuelan dispute.

"This is our hemisphere. It's not where the Russians should be interfering. This was a mistake on their part," Mr Bolton said.

The Kremlin, which is backing Mr Maduro, in turn accused America of being behind an attempted "coup", calling Washington's actions a "gross violation of international law".

The US-Russia tensions flared as Juan Guaidó (35), the opposition leader who declared himself interim president in January, once again took to the streets after urging a military uprising, despite dozens of his supporters being injured the day before.

‘Pressure’: Juan Guaidó is trying to topple Nicolás Maduro. Photo: Getty Images
‘Pressure’: Juan Guaidó is trying to topple Nicolás Maduro. Photo: Getty Images

In Caracas, national guardsmen loyal to Mr Maduro rode on motorcycles to control the demonstrations while tear gas was again used on the crowds. Mr Guaidó had called for the biggest protests in the country's history.

Supporters of Mr Maduro (56) took to the streets as well. Mr Maduro was due to attend a rally himself and vowed that military figures who turned on him would not go "unpunished".

Tuesday's calls by Mr Guaidó for a military uprising had failed to topple Mr Maduro immediately and there were signs that some of those involved were seeking protection.

Leopoldo Lopez, an opposition politician who escaped house arrest and appeared in public on Tuesday, took refuge in the Spanish embassy.

At least 25 Venezuelan troops have also applied for asylum in the Brazilian embassy. Tensions have been mounting between the US, one of more than 50 countries backing Mr Guaidó's claim to power, and Russia and Cuba, which support Mr Maduro and have been accused of propping him up.

Mr Maduro denied a claim by Mr Pompeo that he was due to flee the country on Tuesday only to be convinced otherwise by the Russians. The Russian foreign ministry called it "absolute disinformation and fake news".

Mr Pompeo doubled down on the Trump administration's instance for months that all options were on the table when it comes to US military action in Venezuela. "The president has been crystal clear and incredibly consistent. Military action is possible. If that's what's required, that's what [we] will do," Mr Pompeo told Fox Business Network.

He later talked to Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and urged the Kremlin to stop its "destabilising" actions, according to the US state department.

Mr Lavrov in turn called US actions illegal, according to the Russian foreign ministry, and warned "the continuation of aggressive steps is fraught with the most serious consequences".

With Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian president, claiming a "crack" in the Venezuelan military had been revealed but Mr Maduro himself insisting commanders remained loyal, the Venezuelan president's chances of staying in office remain unclear.

But some are predicting he could yet retain power.

Sergio Guzman, a Bogota-based political risk analyst, said: "I think the moment has gone for Guaidó.

"Maduro may have lost some military support but the opposition is losing momentum at a greater rate." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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