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Maduro severs ties with US, expels diplomats

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Photo shows Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (C) taking part in a rally in support of his government, at the Miraflores Palace, in Caracas, Venezuela, on Jan. 23, 2019. Xinhua

CARACAS (Xinhua) – Venezuela is severing political and diplomatic relations with the United States, President Nicolas Maduro said, accusing Washington of being behind an attempt to have him replaced by National Assembly President and opposition leader, Juan Guaido.

Mr Maduro spoke to a large crowd hours after Mr Guaido had declared himself the country’s interim president.

He gave US diplomatic staff and consular personnel 72 hours to leave Venezuela, castigating Washington of orchestrating “an operation to impose, through a coup d’etat, a puppet regime in Venezuela.”

“I have decided to break diplomatic and political relations with the imperialist US government,” Mr Maduro said in a speech to supporters gathered outside the presidential headquarters in Caracas.

“Out they go from Venezuela, enough of interventionism,” said Mr Maduro, who was accompanied by his cabinet.

The announcement came hours after US President Donald Trump recognised Mr Guaido as interim president in a statement issued by the White House. In addition, Mr Trump has not ruled out the military option. He told reporters later in the day that “all options are on the table.”

Despite Mr Maduro’s strong response, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said late Wednesday that US diplomatic personnel in Venezuela would not leave, adding Washington would conduct diplomatic relations through the government of “interim president.”

Earlier on Wednesday, during an opposition rally, 35-year-old Guaido, head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, declared himself interim president of the Latin American country.

The opposition leader’s claim also won support from Brazil, which recognises Mr Juan Guaido as President-in-Charge of Venezuela.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is in Davos for the World Economic Forum, said Brazil will politically and economically support the transition process for democracy and social peace to return to Venezuela.

“Along with the members of the Group of Lima, which have been, one by one, also recognising this fact, Brazil will provide the necessary political support for this process,” Mr Bolsonaro said.

Meanwhile, Admiral Remigio Ceballos, chief of the strategic command of the Armed Forces, voiced his support for Maduro on Twitter. “We are sovereign and loyal to our commander in chief, Nicolas Maduro Moros,” the military leader tweeted.

For years, the United States has been implementing diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions to Venezuela.

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