Maduro brushes off risk of new sanctions after Sunday's vote

Paris (AFP) –


Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday dismissed the threat of new sanctions following an early election called for Sunday, which critics have denounced as a sham aimed at tightening his grip on power.

"These are unacceptable threats toward any sovereign nation," Maduro said in an interview with France 24 television. "Venezuela is a democratic country."

If EU leaders add to sanctions they first imposed last November, "We'll continue to work, continue to live: Their sanctions don't concern me, because these leaders have a superiority complex, they still think they control their former colonies," Maduro said.

US officials are also expected to tighten the screws on Venezuela, but Maduro reiterated his claim that President Donald Trump is bent on ousting his government.

The country has been gripped by a political and economic crisis for months as Madura has overhauled institutions while sidelining the main opposition coalition, which has been barred from fielding candidates in the coming election.

But Maduro also brushed off claims that his almost certain victory would be marred by huge abstention rates among voters wearied by years of economic and political crises which have devastated living standards for millions.

His campaign has called on citizens to give him a symbolic 10 million votes on Sunday, saying Wednesday that this was the country's "debt to the Bolivarian revolution" -- the political path laid out by the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

Asked if he would then dissolve the National Assembly, which is dominated by opposition groups, Maduro said: "The idea seems a good one".

He has already bypassed the parliament by setting up a Constituent Assembly packed with Maduro loyalists, though the body has not been recognised by foreign governments or the European Union.

- 'Filthy lies' -

Maduro also contested claims of rampant inflation as the country's economy has collapsed amid falling oil prices, calling them lies from groups like the International Monetary Fund, which last month warned prices were likely to soar more than 13,800 percent this year.

"Keep in mind we have an empire against us... Of course we have economic problems, we are working on them and we will solve them bit by bit," he said.

But he said Venezuela would in June undergo an unspecified "monetary conversion to ensure the country's stability."

He also denied claims that thousands of Venezuelans have fled the country in recent years, with the Red Cross saying this month that one million had crossed into neighbouring Colombia last year alone.

"You have your information, and we have ours," Maduro said, claiming that Venezuela had welcomed some 5.6 million Colombians into Venezuela.

"It's the opposite, Venezuelans are coming back, once they have realised the beauty of their country," he said.

- 'A lot of hope' -

"There is an order, a goal, a national project for Venezuela. There is a lot of hope in a new social alternative to neo-liberal capitalism."

He also said there had been no shortages of food or medicines even as cases of diseases such as measles have soared, which aid groups have called a humanitarian crisis.

"Concerning food, Venezuela pursues its own unique policy, and that is why we have a programme that maintains sufficient food levels," he claimed.

Concerning suspicions over his possible involvement in the huge scandal surrounding the Brazilian construction group Odebrecht, Maduro denied receiving bribes to finance his 2013 election campaign.

According to Brazilian prosecutors cited in recent press reports, Maduro received $35 million in exchange for steering projects toward Odebrecht.

"If someone is accusing me of this, they are corrupt," he said.

"You can accuse me of what you want, but these filthy lies, it's out of the question."