Venezuela expels German ambassador for backing Guaido
Nicolas Maduro signals escalation over rival and US-led effort to topple regime
The Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday signalled it would respond to Europe's backing of opposition leader Juan Guaido, announcing the expulsion of Germany's ambassador.
The foreign ministry in Caracas cited envoy Daniel Kriener's “interference” in the country's internal affairs, declaring him persona non grata and giving him 48 hours to leave.
Germany and other leading nations have said Mr Maduro's government lacks legitimacy, calling for him to hold new elections in response to polls in May last year that international monitors say were neither free or fair.
Europe's support for Mr Guaido, though less explicit than that of the United States, has put pressure on Mr Maduro whose rule is wavering because of US sanctions imposed on its economy in recent weeks.
Mr Kriener was among several foreign envoys who greeted Mr Guaido, the 35-year-old National Assembly leader who is recognised as interim president by more than 50 countries including Germany, at a Caracas airport on Monday, when he returned to Venezuela.
Mr Guaido had defied a government travel ban and slipped out of the country on February 23. Upon his return he called for fresh demonstrations against Mr Maduro, facing down threats of arrest after a tour of friendly Latin American capitals. A government statement said Mr Kriener "showed up at Maiquetia international airport to witness the arrival of the deputy in contempt of the country, Juan Guaido," adding that it was "unacceptable" that the ambassador acted in "clear alignment with the conspiracy agenda of extremist sectors of the Venezuelan opposition."
Germany's foreign ministry confirmed Mr Kriener had been declared persona non grata.
Separately, Venezuela's National Press Workers Union said on Twitter that American journalist Cody Weddle was arrested on Wednesday by military counterintelligence agents at his home in Caracas. The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The developments came hours before US national security adviser John Bolton said the Trump administration would impose fresh sanctions on foreign institutions who provide support to Mr Maduro.
The White House is leading international pressure to have the sitting president replaced by Mr Guaido, whom Washington recognises as the country's official interim leader.
"The United States is putting foreign financial institutions on notice that they will face sanctions for being involved in facilitating illegitimate transactions that benefit Nicolas Maduro and his corrupt network," Mr Bolton said in a statement.
Although under attack from the US and other countries, Mr Maduro has powerful backing from Russia and China. He has described the US-led campaign against him as an imperialist plot to seize control of the oil-rich nation. Years of communist left rule have transformed once thriving Venezuela into an economic basket case, with severe shortages of basic food and medicine.
Updated: March 7, 2019 05:18 PM