Venezuela expels US envoys

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Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro. Reuters

CARACAS (Reuters) – President Nicolas Maduro ordered the expulsion of two top US diplomats here in retaliation for a new round of sanctions over Venezuela’s widely-condemned election, accusing them of a ’conspiracy’ that was denied by the State Department.

The United States, European Union and most major Latin American nations have all said Sunday’s vote did not meet democratic standards. Maduro, the 55-year-old successor to Hugo Chavez, won re-election easily, but critics said the vote was riddled with irregularities, from the barring of two popular opposition rivals to the offering of a government “prize” to voters.

President Donald Trump responded with an executive order limiting Venezuela’s ability to sell state assets.

Accusing US charge d’affaires Todd Robinson of being involved in “a military conspiracy,” Maduro ordered him and another senior diplomat, Brian Naranjo, to leave within 48 hours.

He gave no details of the accusations, but said the US Embassy had been meddling in military, economic and political issues, and vowed to present evidence shortly.

The US State Department rejected Maduro’s “false allegations” against the two diplomats, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said at a news briefing in Washington.

In an interview on Tuesday, Venezuela’s Trade Minister Jose Vielma said the latest round of sanctions would have a “more serious” impact on the country’s financial system.

Previous sanctions were limited to assets linked to individual Maduro administration members.

The executive order prohibits US citizens from being involved in sales of Venezuela’s pending invoices related to oil and other assets, though Vielma said shipments of fuel and crude to the US would continue.

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