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Venezuela braces for new clashes as US envoys exit

Updated: 2014-02-19 07:05
By Agencies in Caracas, Venezuela ( China Daily)

Venezuela braces for new clashes as US envoys exit

An opposition demonstrator gives flowers to a police officer during a protest against President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela, on Monday. Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters

Venezuela braced on Tuesday for more protests by supporters and opponents of President Nicolas Maduro, as his government gave three US diplomats two days to leave the country.

"All these diplomats are required to leave Venezuela in the next 48 hours for actively being involved in the organization and promotion of these groups that now intend to generate violence in our country," Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua told a news conference.

Jaua said three US consular officers used the "cover" of granting visas to private university students to meet with them, and instigate protests and unrest in the country.

"The independent Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela does not accept threats, blackmail, or conditions from any force in the world. We are committed to ensuring peace and stability of all Venezuelans," Jaua said.

The US State Department said the allegations were baseless and false, adding that Washington supports free expression and peaceful assembly in Venezuela and around the world.

US embassy officials contacted by Xinhua were not immediately available to comment on the expulsion of the diplomats.

Leopoldo Lopez, an opposition leader facing an arrest warrant, said he would take part in a rally on Tuesday.

Tension was likely to rise throughout the day because the two rallies being staged in Caracas, unlike previous ones, were scheduled to take part in the same area of the capital.

Maduro is grappling with angry student protests that began in the interior of the oil-rich country and boiled over last week in street clashes in Caracas that left three dead.

Students and other opponents of Maduro are angry about living conditions - crime, job prospects and high inflation - in a country with the world's biggest proven oil reserves.

The main opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, governor of the northern state of Miranda and defeated by Maduro in last year's election to succeed late leader Hugo Chavez, said he would take part in the rally, even though he did not agree with the students' strategy. He says now is not the time to try to force Maduro's removal.

"We may have differences, but we feel solidarity," Capriles said.

Lopez's People's Will Party released a video which it said showed armed men wearing helmets breaking down a door to get into its headquarters.

Shortly after Lopez said he would take part in the rally, Maduro called a rally by employees of the State-run oil company in the same area of Caracas.

Jaua identified the US diplomats declared persona non grata as Breeann Marie McCusker, Jeffrey Gordon Elsen and Kristofer Lee Clark, all said to be second secretaries at the US embassy.

AFP - Xinhua - Reuters