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EU lawmakers invited by Guaido barred from entering Venezuela

Andres Martinez Casares, REUTERS | Venezuelan security forces in Caracas on January 27, 2019.

Venezuela denied a group of European lawmakers entry into the country on Sunday, arguing they had "conspiratorial motives" for flying to Caracas in the throes of a political crisis.

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The European Parliament last month joined a slew of Western nations in recognising Venezuelan opposition chief Juan Guaido as interim head of state after President Nicolas Maduro won a second term in an election last year that critics denounced as a sham.

The four members of parliament from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) were travelling to Venezuela to meet with Guaido, one of them said in a video distributed via social media.

"They have retained our passports, they haven't communicated the reason for our expulsion," Esteban González Pons said.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said on his Twitter account that the lawmakers had been advised several days ago that they would not be allowed entry into the South American country.

Venezuela would "not permit the European extreme right to disturb the peace and stability of the country with another of its rude, interventionist actions," he wrote.

There is growing pressure on Maduro at home and abroad to step down so that Guaido can head an interim government to organise free elections. Maduro, who retains the backing of Russia and China, says he is the victim of a coup.

Writing on Twitter, Guaido slammed the decision to block the EU lawmakers and said the group was "deported by an isolated and increasingly irrational regime".

"The usurper is the one who is increasing the price of what is already a fact: the transition," he added, referring to embattled Maduro.

Guaido is seeking to enlist a million volunteers within a week to confront a government blockade that has kept tons of humanitarian aid, most of it from the United States, from flowing into the country.

He has given February 23 – one month to the day after he proclaimed himself acting president – as the date for a showdown over the aid with the government of Maduro.

An imploding economy has driven an estimated 2.3 Venezuelans to migrate, while those who remain have been punished by hyperinflation that has put scarce food and medicine out of reach for many.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

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