Venezuela’s Maduro rejects election ultimatum as U.S. envoy defects to opposition leader

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By Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s embattled President Nicolás Maduro on Sunday rejected an international ultimatum to call elections within eight days and said opposition leader Juan Guaidó had violated the country’s constitution by declaring himself leader.

Maduro, in an interview with CNN Turk, also said he was open to dialogue and that meeting President Donald Trump was improbable but not impossible. The broadcaster dubbed the interview from Spanish into Turkish.

Washington, which has recognized Guaidó as leader, had on Saturday urged the world to “pick a side” on Venezuela and financially disconnect from Maduro’s socialist government.

Venezuela has sunk into turmoil under Maduro with food shortages and protests amid an economic and political crisis that has sparked mass emigration and inflation that is seen rising to 10 million percent this year.

Britain, Germany, France and Spain all said they would recognize Guaidó if Maduro failed to call fresh elections within eight days, an ultimatum Russia said was “absurd” and the Venezuelan foreign minister called “childlike.”

Washington, Canada most Latin American nations and many European states have labeled Maduro’s second-term election win last May fraudulent.

Maduro retains the loyalty of the armed forces, though Venezuela’s top military envoy to the United States on Saturday defected to Guaidó.

“The armed forces have a fundamental role to play in the restoration of democracy,” Col. José Luis Silva said in the video, which he said was shot at his office in the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, sitting in front of the nation’s red, blue and yellow flag.

He called on other members of the military to join him in supporting Guaidó, saying they need to avoid “attacking” protesters whose only aim is to feed themselves.

Guaido welcomed Silva in a message on Twitter and encouraged others to follow his example. In a tweet, Venezuela’s Defense Ministry called Silva a coward, posting a picture of him emblazoned with the word “traitor” across it in red capital letters.JOSHUA ROBERTS / Reuters

Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for U.S. National Security Council, encouraged others to follow Silva’s lead “to protect constitutional order, not to sustain dictators and repress its own people.”

Venezuela’s top commanders have pledged loyalty to Maduro’s government in the days since Guaidó declared himself interim leader. But support for Maduro’s rule is weaker among the military’s rank and file, whose households are suffering from widespread food shortages and hyperinflation like their civilian counterparts.

The standoff has plunged troubled Venezuela into a new chapter of political turmoil that rights groups say has already left more than two dozen dead as thousands take to the street demanding Maduro step down.

Venezuela defused a potential showdown with the U.S. late Saturday, suspending a demand that U.S. diplomats leave the country.

Maduro broke relations with the U.S. on Wednesday after the Trump administration recognized Guaidó as interim president, a move that Maduro called a coup attempt.

Maduro gave U.S. diplomats three days to leave the country, but the Trump administration said it wouldn’t obey, arguing that Maduro is no longer Venezuela’s legitimate president. That set the stage for a showdown at the hilltop U.S. Embassy compound Saturday night, when the deadline was to expire.

But as the sun set on Venezuela’s capital, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying Maduro’s government was suspending the expulsion to provide a 30-day window for negotiating with U.S. officials about setting up a “U.S. interests office” in Venezuela and a similar Venezuelan office in the United States.

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