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Venezuela's Maduro rejects European ultimatum on elections

Yuri Cortez, AFP | Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivers a speech during a gathering in Caracas on February 2, 2019.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro rejected Sunday an ultimatum by European countries to call snap elections after opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself the Latin American country's legitimate leader.

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France, Germany and Spain had given Maduro until midnight on Sunday to call a presidential election, or they would recognise Guaido as the interim president.

But a defiant Maduro said in an interview with Spanish television station Sexta that he would not "cave in to pressure" from those calling for his departure.

"Why does the European Union have to tell a country in the world that has already had elections that it has to repeat its presidential elections, because they were not won by their right-wing allies," said Maduro, interviewed in Caracas.

"They are trying to corner us with ultimatums to force us into an extreme situation of confrontation," Maduro said.

Earlier, France's European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau had said the European nations would join the US and others in recognising Guaido, the 35-year-old National Assembly head who declared himself acting president at an opposition rally 11 days ago, as legitimate leader.

"The ultimatum ends tonight," she told French media.

"If between now and this evening Mr Maduro does not commit to organising presidential elections, we will consider that Mr Guaido is legitimate to organise them in his place," Loiseau added

"And we will consider him as interim president until the elections," she continued.

Loiseau added that Maduro's suggestion of bringing forward parliamentary elections scheduled for 2020 was "a farce, a tragic farce".

This comes as the European Union says that a newly formed "International Contact Group" of European and Latin American countries will hold its first meeting in Uruguay on Thursday to address the Venezuela crisis.

Trump says sending military ‘an option’

A joint statement from EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez on Sunday said that the meeting in Montevideo will be held at ministerial level.

The contact group includes the EU and eight of its member countries -- France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Britain -- as well as Latin American nations Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Uruguay.

Its stated aim is "contributing to create conditions for a political and peaceful process to emerge, enabling Venezuelans to determine their own future" through free and credible elections.

For his part, US President Donald Trump has said that sending the military to Venezuela was "an option" and that he had turned down Maduro's request for a meeting.

"Certainly, it's something that's on the - it's an option," Trump said in an interview with CBS to be broadcast on Sunday.

But Maduro, who has overseen an economic collapse and the exodus of millions of Venezuelans, still maintains the powerful backing of Russia, China and Turkey, and the critical support of the military.

Russia, a major creditor to Venezuela in recent years, quickly urged restraint.

"The international community's goal should be to help (Venezuela), without destructive meddling from beyond its borders," Alexander Shchetinin, head of the Latin America department at Russia's Foreign Ministry, told Interfax.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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