European Union nations get behind Venezuela's Juan Guaido as acting president

UK recognises Juan Guaido as interim President of Venezuela

Under Maduro's stewardship, oil-dependent Venezuela has plunged into an economic crisis, suffering from hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine.

Earlier in the day, Spain, Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, and the United Kingdom recognized Venezuelan opposition parliament speaker Juan Guaido as the country's interim president.

But he stopped short of breaking off diplomatic relations with the 16 European countries that recognized his rival Monday, unlike his swift move to cut off ties with the USA after it threw its support behind Guaido last month.

"From today, we will spare no effort in helping all Venezuelans achieve freedom, prosperity and harmony", Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said as he announced Madrid had recognised Guaido, the head of Venezuela's National Assembly who declared himself last month to be the oil-rich South American country's interim ruler.

Sanchez said he wanted Spain to spearhead a plan of humanitarian aid for Venezuela in the European Union and United Nations.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a visit to Japan that Guaido "is the legitimate interim president".

Pressure is mounting on Maduro to step down just a month after he began his second term as president following disputed and controversial 2018 elections.

"We are faced with arbitrary rule, without respect for the guarantees laid down in the Constitution or the highest principles of the dignity of the people", they said.

On Monday, Guaido said the European Union needed "to act in unison so that the forces, who are still supporting Maduro feel all the weight of Europe's diplomatic and political pressure".

"Faced with President Maduro's refusal to organize presidential elections which would clarify, calm the situation in Venezuela. we consider that Mr. Guaido has the capacity and legitimacy to organize these elections".

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"I don't accept ultimatums from anybody", Maduro told Spanish TV channel La Sexta.

The 14-nation Lima Group - made up of Canada and Latin American countries - meets in Ottawa on Monday.

In power since former President Hugo Chavez's death in 2013, Maduro has been accused by critics of running the OPEC nation of 30 million people like a dictatorship.

U.S. President Donald Trump said military intervention in Venezuela was "an option" as Western nations boost pressure on socialist leader Nicolas Maduro to step down, while the troubled OPEC nation's ally Russian Federation warned against "destructive meddling".

"The United States wants to return to the 20th century of military coups, subordinate puppet governments and the looting of resources", Maduro said.

On Monday, Maduro said he had written to Pope Francis, urging him to play a mediating role.

Maduro accused Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, of having taken "a bad decision" in recognising Guaido.

Some of the EU countries backing Guaido are part of a newly formed "International Contact Group" of eight European and four Latin American nations. It aims to facilitate dialogue and is due to hold its first meeting in Uruguay on Thursday. The move further sidelines the authoritarian government of Nicolas Maduro, which has been declared illegitimate by Canada and many of its allies.

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have turned out in recent protests to demand Maduro's exit, although he appears to have the support of the nation's powerful military and security services.

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