European nations raise pressure on Venezuela's Maduro

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Russian Federation has repeatedly opposed US suggestions of foreign intervention to install opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president, and supported Mr. Maduro's calls for mediation on the crisis.

The 14-nation so-called Lima Group, which includes Canada and Latin American countries such as Brazil and Mexico but not the United States, met in Ottawa to discuss the way forward on Venezuela.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said last week Britain was wrong to be looking towards sanctions.

Thousands of Venezuelans living in Argentina, opposed to President Nicolas Maduro, hold a demonstration in Buenos Aires in support of opposition leader Juan Guaido's self-appointment as acting president of Venezuela, on January 23, 2019.

Defying European pressure, Maduro shrugged off an ultimatum by EU states demanding early elections. The EU powers held off in joining the US pressure campaign to see whether Venezuela would agree to new elections.

Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Lithuania admitted they share the same views as their allies. Eleven of its members have recognised Guaido.

President Maduro, 56, a former union leader, bus driver and foreign minister, replaced ex-president Hugo Chavez in 2013 after his death from cancer.

The situation has always been denounced by the opposition and Guaido stunned the world on January 23 when he declared himself acting president at a rally, declaring Maduro's presidency "illegitimate" and founded on flawed elections.

In a statement, Venezuela's Foreign Ministry rejected the announcements by European countries, charging that they were "officially joining the US' strategy to overthrow the legitimate Government of President Nicolas Maduro".

"Soldiers, we continue to wait for you".

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He began to exercise authority for the first time this weekend, calling on the army to allow in humanitarian aid to a nation wracked by economic crisis.

"I sent a letter to Pope Francis", Maduro told Italy's SkyTG24 television in an interview broadcast on Monday, with opposition leader Juan Guaido gaining more worldwide support.

Seven EU states had given Maduro a Sunday midnight deadline to call presidential elections or they would recognise Guaido. Critics have called that election a sham and the mainstream opposition boycotted it.

What started as a trickle has turned into a flow of European Union countries who have now officially declared Guaido as interim president.

"I sent a letter to Pope Francis, I hope it is on his way or that it has already arrived in Rome, at the Vatican", Mr. "With ministers Néstor Ruiz Reverol and Aristóbulo Istúriz [minister of Education and vice president for social affairs], we said goodbye to the crew".

The next Lima Group meeting is due to be hosted by Colombia.

Portugal's Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said the group wants to end Venezuela's political stalemate through the ballot box, preventing a civil war or an "illegitimate foreign intervention".

Guaido lost no time Monday in building on broadened global support, with his fledgling alternative administration announcing February 14 talks in Washington on responding to "the largest hemispheric humanitarian crisis in modern history".

In New York, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said U.N. officials will not participate in global initiatives on Venezuela in order to remain neutral.

But David Lipton, the No. 2 at the International Monetary Fund, called Venezuela's economic crisis - marked by widespread food shortages, protracted hyperinflation and the loss of human capital through emigration - an "unprecedented economic storm" that will required generous, broad-based international support to overcome.