Venezuela allows United States diplomats to stay, defusing showdown, as crisis continues

Praise and controversy greet Abrams as new US Venezuela envoy

Pompeo called the Maduro regime an "illegitimate mafia state" and criticized countries including Russia, China, Iran and Cuba for supporting him.

Guaido, who took the helm of the National Assembly on January 5, proclaimed himself interim president on Wednesday though Maduro, who has led the oil-rich nation since 2013 and has the support of the armed forces, has refused to stand down.

President Nicolas Maduro's election to a six-year term last year has been widely criticized as a fraud created to keep him and his military allies in power despite the country's years-long spiral into misery and hunger.

Guaido has aimed his appeals at the Venezuelan military, with promises of amnesty and mass protests to dramatize the depth of popular opposition to Maduro who has presided over a virtual collapse of the economy and a worsening humanitarian crisis.

Last week, Maduro ordered American diplomats to leave the country within 72 hours, after Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president during a rally on Wednesday.

Israel recognises the head of Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the new leader of the Latin American country, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday in a video statement. No more delays, no more games.

"Once again, Venezuela will overcome this coup, and no imperial power will break the moral resistance of the people of Venezuela".

The latest development comes as European powers signaled they were ready to follow the United States in recognizing National Assembly President Guaido as Venezuela's rightful leader. "Do not test the United States on our resolve to protect our people".

"Nobody is going to give us deadlines or tell us if there are elections or not", Arreaza said. "Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you're in league with Maduro and his mayhem", Pompeo told the council.

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Recognition of Guaido by the U.S., Venezuela's biggest trade partner, already threatens to heap more misery on the country's crisis-stricken economy, and a similar move by European nations would complicate matters further.

The State Department did not confirm the Venezuelan government's account, reiterating only that its priority remains the safety of its personnel and that it has no plans to close the embassy.

"Venezuela will not allow anyone to impose on us any decision or order", Arreaza said, adding that Caracas has "excellent friends" it can call on for support to defend itself.

"As the Venezuelan defense attache in the United States, I do not recognize Mr. Nicolas Maduro as president of Venezuela", Silva told the Spanish-language, Miami-based newspaper El Nuevo Herald.

The country's foreign ministry issued a statement saying that far-left President Nicolas Maduro was suspending the expulsion of USA diplomats, to allow for a 30-day window to negotiate with American officials.

The announcement from Silva is significant, as military leaders in Venezuela had previously voiced their loyalty to the Maduro government and described Guaido's self-appointment as a coup.

Lederer reported from the United Nations.

For the estimated three million people who have fled Venezuela's economic and political crisis in recent years, the growing support for Guaido gives them hope that they will one day be able to return home.

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