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  • Montreal Gazette
  • 4 Feb 2019

European countries issued a lastditch warning to Nicolas Maduro on Sunday that they would recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president if he did not call elections, while U.S. President Donald Trump said military intervention in Venezuela was “an option.”

In an interview with CBS on Sunday, Trump said U.S. military intervention was under consideration.

“Certainly, it’s something that’s on the — it’s an option,” Trump said, adding that embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro requested a meeting months ago.

“I’ve turned it down because we’re very far along in the process,” he said in a CBS Face the Nation interview. “So, I think the process is playing out.”

The United States, Canada and several Latin American and European countries have disavowed Maduro over his disputed re-election last year, and have recognized self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido as the country’s rightful leader.

Maduro, who has overseen an economic collapse and the exodus of millions of Venezuelans, still maintains the powerful backing of Russia, China and Turkey, and the critical support of the military.

Nathalie Loiseau, France’s Europe minister, reiterated Sunday that the ultimatum issued by Paris, London and five other European governments eight days ago was about to expire at midnight.

“If by tonight Mr. Maduro does not commit to organizing presidential elections, we will consider that Mr. Guaido is legitimate to organize them in his place and we will consider (him) the interim president of Venezuela until legitimate elections.”

The vote Maduro won last May had been a “farce” and a “fictitious election,” she said.

Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor, said Sunday that his government would be joining the other nations that have recognized Guaido as leader.

In Venezuela, Guaido called on more members of the military to abandon the country’s socialist government following the defection of a high-ranking general, while Maduro proposed holding early National Assembly elections that could potentially oust his challenger.

Speaking from behind a podium decorated with Venezuela’s presidential seal, Guaido told supporters he would keep his opposition movement in the streets until Maduro stopped “usurping” the presidency and agreed to a presidential election overseen by international observers. On Saturday, tens of thousands of Venezuelans joined opposition protests against Maduro in Caracas and other cities.

Guaido called on “blocks” of the military to defect from Maduro’s administration and “get on the side of the Venezuelan people.”

“We don’t just want you to stop shooting at protesters,” Guaido said in a hoarse voice. “We want you to be part of the reconstruction of Venezuela.”

He said in the coming days, the opposition would try to move humanitarian aid into the country by land and sea along three border points, including the Colombian city of Cucuta. He described the move as a “test” for Venezuela’s armed forces, which will have to choose if they allow the much-needed aid to pass, or if they instead obey the orders of Maduro’s government.

Maduro also dug in his heels, insisting he was the only president of Venezuela and describing Saturday’s anti-government protests as part of a U.S.-led coup attempt.

“I agree that the legislative power of the country be re-legitimized and that we hold free elections with guarantees, and the people choose a new National Assembly,” Maduro said at a pro-government demonstration in Caracas.

The opposition controls the National Assembly while government supporters control the more-powerful Constituent Assembly, so calls for a vote to replace the former and not the latter was seen as a move against Guaido.

The socialist leader also had words for the administration of Donald Trump, which recently imposed sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports in an effort to undermine Maduro’s main source of income and weaken his grip on power.

“Do you think you are the emperor of the world?” he asked Trump. “Do you think Venezuela is going to give up and obey your orders? We will not surrender.”

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