Venezuela's Maduro orders expulsion of top US diplomats

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AFP) — President Nicolas Maduro Tuesday ordered the expulsion of the top two US diplomatic representatives in Venezuela, angrily rejecting economic sanctions imposed by Washington over his re-relection.

Maduro announced the expulsions in a nationally televised speech after being officially proclaimed the winner of Sunday's election.

The election was boycotted by the main opposition parties and widely criticised by the international community, including the United States, which denounced it as a "sham."

The Venezuelan president declared US charge d'affaires Todd Robinson and deputy head of mission Brian Naranjo "persona non grata."

"They must leave the country in 48 hours in protest and in defense of the dignity of the Venezuelan homeland... Enough of conspiracies!" he said.

On Monday, President Donald Trump Monday tightened sanctions against Caracas, making it harder for the Maduro regime to sell off state assets.

"I repudiate all the sanctions that are sought against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, because they harm it, they generate suffering for the people of Venezuela," Maduro said in the speech.

"We will present evidence to the country of the conspiracy in the military field of the United States charge d'affaires and his embassy, ​​of the conspiracy in the economic field and of the conspiracy in the political field."

Washington and Caracas have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010, and relations between the two countries have been tense since the late leftist President Hugo Chavez, Maduro's mentor, assumed power in 1999.

The deeply unpopular Maduro was declared the winner with 68 percent of the vote, but 52 percent of voters did not cast ballots -- a historic abstention rate.

'Political and financial lynching'
The foreign ministry earlier lashed out at the sanctions, accusing the US of a "political and financial lynching."

Venezuelans are reeling under an acute crisis, with hyperinflation projected by the IMF to reach 13,800 per cent this year and dire shortages of food and medicine.

Hundreds of thousands have fled the country to escape the growing deprivation.

Maduro, 55, earlier Tuesday received his official credentials from the National Electoral Council, or CNE by its Spanish acronym, as the winner of the election.

"The CNE ... confirms citizen Nicolas Maduro Moros as president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela for a period of six years," starting in January 2019, CNE head Tibisay Lucena declared.

Lucena, from the same leftist party as Maduro, rejected allegations by the opposition and many countries that the polls were not legitimate.

"Never have we witnessed an international attack as bad as the one that characterised this process," she said.

"The voices of denunciation returned, without evidence. If offers up the possibility for the enemies of Venezuela to attack our sovereignty."

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