Venezuela: Maduro kicks out American consular staff

President Nicolas Maduro addresses the nation on Sunday. Picture: Reuters
President Nicolas Maduro addresses the nation on Sunday. Picture: Reuters
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Venezuela’s president is ­ordering the expulsion of three US consular staff, accusing them of infiltrating the country’s ­universities.

Nicolás Maduro made the ­announcement during a televised speech amid rising tension in Venezuela over anti-government protests.

Mr Maduro did not identify the officials but accused them of infiltrating universities under the cover of consular work ­involving student visas.

The president has accused the US of working with the ­opposition in trying to topple his socialist government, a claim Washington denies.

Mr Maduro said Venezuela’s ambassador to the Washington-based Organisation of American States received a phone call from the US state department warning that the ­arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo López would have negative international consequences for his government.

The president said he would not tolerate “threats” to Venezuela’s sovereignty.

Mr López, the target of a ­police manhunt for allegedly inciting violence at anti-government protests that ended with three deaths, has said he will surrender after staging one more ­demonstration.

In a video shot in an undisclosed location, he said he did not fear arrest but accused ­authorities of trying to violate his constitutional right to protest against Mr Maduro’s ­government. He urged supporters to gather in white shirts and march peacefully with him to the interior ministry in Caracas, where he would deliver a petition demanding a full investigation of the government’s role in the deaths, then turn himself in.

“I haven’t committed any crime,” said Mr López, who has not been seen since a news conference on Wednesday night. “If there is a decision to legally throw me in jail I’ll submit ­myself to this persecution.”

His comments came after security forces raided his home and that of his parents on Saturday night, seeking to serve an arrest order on charges ranging from vandalism of public property to terrorism and murder.

Mr López was not at either home when national guardsmen and military intelligence officials arrived. Aides said neighbours banged on pots and pans to protest at what they considered an arbitrary detention order.

The raids capped another night of protests during which security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a group of 500 students who vowed to remain on the streets until all arrested anti-government demonstrators are released. Authorities said 23 people were being treated for injuries. More protests were held on Sunday.

Mr López, 42, a Harvard- educated former mayor, is the most prominent of a group of opposition hardliners challenging two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles for leadership of the anti-Maduro movement.

Mr Maduro accuses Mr López of leading a US-backed “fascist” plot to oust him from power two months after the ruling party’s candidates won mayoral elections by a landslide. Mr Maduro told thousands of supporters at a pro-government rally on Saturday that Mr López “ordered all these violent kids, who he trained, to destroy the prosecutor’s office and half of Caracas and then goes into hiding”.

He added: “Turn yourself in, coward.”