Maduro rejects European ultimatum on elections

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro rejected Sunday an ultimatum by European countries to call snap elections after opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself the Latin American country’s legitimate leader. Seven EU states had given Maduro a Sunday deadline to call presidential elections or they would recognize the 35-year-old National Assembly head as the interim president. A defiant Maduro said in an interview with Spanish television station Sexta that he would not “cave in to pressure” from those calling for his
departure. “Why does the European Union have to tell a country in the world that has
already had elections that it has to repeat its presidential elections, because they were not won by their right-wing allies,” said Maduro, interviewed in Caracas.

“They are trying to corner us with ultimatums to force us into an extreme
situation of confrontation,” Maduro said.

However, he supported plans for a meeting of Latin American and EU states
in a “Contact Group” meeting in Montevideo next Thursday as it could lead to
a “dialogue among Venezuelans to resolve our issues.”

And he called on Guaido for “face to face” talks, which the younger man
has already rejected.

Guaido stunned the world on January 23 when he declared himself acting
president at an opposition rally. Taking his authority from the constitution
as National Assembly leader, he said Maduro’s presidency was “illegitimate”
as it was founded on flawed elections.

Guaido is trying to force the socialist leader from power so he can set up
a transitional government and hold new presidential elections.

Already recognized by the United States, Canada, Australia and several
Latin American countries, he began to exercise authority for the first time
this weekend, calling on the army to allow in humanitarian aid to a nation
wracked by economic crisis.

“We are going to exercise our powers to deal with the crisis, restore
democracy and achieve freedom,” Guaido said Sunday on Twitter.

He was also expected to announce a date for the arrival of humanitarian
aid from the US — a path Maduro believes will lead to a US-led military
intervention.

Guaido says up to 300,000 people are “at risk of death” in Venezuela for
want of humanitarian aid.

In Washington, US President Donald Trump warned that military intervention
remains “an option” for dealing with the crisis in oil-rich but impoverished
Venezuela.

Earlier Sunday, Maduro addressed troops on military exercises in
Venezuela’s coastal northeast, calling on them for “maximum cohesion” a day
after a top Air Force general publicly sided with Guaido.

The opposition “want to deliver the country in pieces to the gringo empire
and the local oligarchies,” Maduro told the soldiers.

Seven European nations, including Britain, France, Germany and Spain, had
given Maduro eight days to call elections or they would also back Guaido from
midnight Sunday.

“If between now and this evening Mr Maduro does not commit to organizing
presidential elections, we will consider that Mr Guaido is legitimate to
organize them in his place,” France’s European Affairs Minister Nathalie
Loiseau told French media on Sunday.

– ‘Let’s have elections’ –

Tens of thousands of people turned out Saturday for competing shows of
support for Guaido and for Maduro who was sworn in January 10 to a disputed
second six-year term.

During the protest, Guaido announced the installation of collection
centers for medicine and food — items lacking in Venezuela — in neighboring
Colombia and Brazil.

Speaking at a pro-regime demonstration marking 20 years since his
predecessor Hugo Chavez came to power, Maduro reiterated his call to bring
forward elections for the opposition-held national assembly.

“They want to bring forward elections, let’s have elections,” he said.

Under Maduro’s stewardship, oil-dependent Venezuela has lurched into an
economic crisis that has left the country suffering from hyperinflation and
shortages of food and medicine.

But at his rally on Saturday, he called the opposition “imperialist
beggars,” claiming a US pledge to deliver $20 million in aid would precede
military intervention.

– ‘Decisive’ –

Guaido also called for a new demonstration on February 12, and another
protest to push for the entry of aid.

Speaking at the European Union’s headquarters in the east of the capital,
he said this month “should be decisive.”

All eyes are on the military, which has so far been Maduro’s main pillar
of support, but there have been signs of unrest in the ranks.

On January 21, a group of 27 soldiers rose up against Maduro in Caracas.
Although that was quickly suppressed, it helped spark a week of protests in
which 40 people were killed in clashes with security forces, with hundreds
more arrested, according to the United Nations.

Meanwhile, the 14-nation Lima Group — made up of Canada and Latin
American countries — meets in Ottawa on Monday. Eleven of its members have
recognized Guaido.