VENEZUELANS SEEK FRESH ELECTION FOR THEIR PRESIDENT
Pressure mounted Saturday on embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to hold new elections, with the United States urging the UN Security Council to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president and members of the European Union demanding a vote within eight days.
The South American nation's power struggle has unleashed a full-blown diplomatic row. The United States and at least a dozen other countries have officially recognized Guaido, while Russia, China and others have thrown their support behind Maduro.
On Saturday, the Venezuelan crisis was hotly debated on both sides of the Atlantic. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked a special meeting of the Security Council to stand behind Guaido's transitional government, while the UK, Spain, Germany and France vowed to recognize him as president unless Maduro calls elections by next week.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addresses a UN Security Council meeting Saturday on Venezuela.
"Our nations must stand up for the rule of law and support the leader who the Venezuelan people have affirmed as their legitimate interim president," said Pompeo, calling for a new vote "as soon as possible."
These are the countries that support Guaido
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, also at the United Nations, repeated Maduro's assertion that the crisis amounted to a US-backed coup, with the blessing of other nations.
"It is dictating the orders, not only to the Venezuelan opposition but also to the satellite governments in the region and, it seems, in Europe and other parts of the world," he said of US policy.
Opposition hints at talks with Maduro supporters
Earlier Saturday, UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt joined Spain, Germany and France in delivering Maduro an ultimatum: Guaido will be recognized as president if elections are not called before their deadline.
The EU also warned of "further actions" against Venezuela if elections are not called in the coming days, according to a statement by Federica Mogherini, vice president of the European Commission and high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy.
"The country urgently needs a government that truly represents the will of the Venezuelan people," she said.
At an opposition rally Saturday in Venezuela, the man who proclaimed himself acting Venezuelan president hinted Saturday that he has met with Maduro government officials.
"Of course, we have talked," Guaido said.
Referring to his amnesty offer to members of the armed forces, he added, "We can grant you protection. ... Maduro can't."
Venezuelan Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez said Friday that the opposition leader had met with Maduro-aligned politicians, including Diosdado Cabello, president of the Constituent Assembly, and Freddy Bernal, former mayor of the Libertador municipality in Caracas.
Guaido asks Venezuela's armed forces to join him
The diplomatic scramble comes a day after Guaido called on the nation's military to work with him.
"Come to the side of the Venezuelan people," he said in a message Friday aimed at the armed forces.
On Thursday, the head of Venezuela's armed forces announced continued support for Maduro.
These are among the countries that support Maduro
"The people who think that we are going to fizzle, I think they are not going to be happy," he said. "There are people here in the streets for a long time."
Maduro appeared to leave open the possibility of a political solution Friday, signaling his willingness to sit down with the opposition to end the crisis.
"We believe that it's only possible through dialogue and diplomacy to find solutions to conflicts," he told reporters at the presidential palace, "not through violence or foreign interventions or coup attempts or war."
Deaths in protest-related violence
The crisis has taken this country facing a prolonged political and economic collapse to a new low point.
Pompeo said earlier this week that the United States will offer $20 million for food and medicine shortages "as soon as logistically possible."
A UN human rights official said Friday that at least 20 people had died in protest-related violence this week.
Security forces or members of pro-government armed groups allegedly shot the people during demonstrations Tuesday and Wednesday, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said, citing "credible local sources."
More than 350 demonstrators have reportedly been detained this week, Bachelet's office said.
"I am extremely concerned that the situation in Venezuela may rapidly spiral out of control with catastrophic consequences," Bachelet said.
Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict, a nongovernmental organization, reported late Friday that 29 people have been killed in nationwide protests. The group said the count started at midnight Wednesday.
CNN could not independently confirm either count.
Pompeo told reporters Friday that he had appointed Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser for President George W. Bush, to lead efforts to resolve the crisis. He said "all appropriate measures" were being taken to ensure the safety of US diplomats in Venezuela.
"Do not test the United States on our resolve to protect our people," Pompeo said Saturday at the United Nations.
Maduro has accused the United States of meddling and has given US diplomats until this weekend to leave his country.
At a presidential palace news conference, days after announcing he was cutting diplomatic ties, the President seemed to soften his stand. He said he had broken "political and diplomatic relations" with President Donald Trump but maintains other relations with the United States.
In a statement Friday, the US Treasury Department said it plans to use economic and diplomatic tools to ensure any commercial transactions with the Venezuelan government are "consistent" with the US-recognized government of Venezuela led by Guaido.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks Thursday at Venezuela's Supreme Court.
All nonemergency US employees were ordered to leave Venezuela on Thursday, according to a security alert. Pompeo had earlier brushed off Maduro's order that US diplomats leave the country, saying the US doesn't recognize his power to do so.
The US Embassy in Caracas opened Thursday, but all visa appointments were canceled.
Late Thursday, Guaido called on Venezuelan diplomats to stay in the United States.
The opposition leader also said he would consider amnesty for Maduro and his allies if they don't hamper Guaido's ascension to temporary power. He has called for elections.
A fire burns during a protest Wednesday in Caracas against Maduro's government.
Countries divided over leadership crisis
Washington's interference in Venezuela could lead to "lawlessness and bloodshed," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.