Venezuela orders ‘conspiring’ US officials to leave

Maduro gives defiant speech as opposition leader vows to hand himself in after protest

Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro speaks during a national broadcast at Miraflores Palace in Caracas last night. Photograph: Miraflores Palace/Handout via Reuters.

Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro speaks during a national broadcast at Miraflores Palace in Caracas last night. Photograph: Miraflores Palace/Handout via Reuters.

 

Venezuela has ordered three US officials to leave the country for allegedly conspiring against the government during meetings with students.

The development came as an opposition leader wanted by police over deadly street protests vowed to hand himself in after his supporters march in Caracas.

Authorities accuse Leopoldo Lopez of murder and terrorism in connection with violence around four days of sporadic anti-government demonstrations that have left three people dead and both sides blaming each other for the bloodshed.

“I will be there showing my face. I have nothing to fear,” Mr Lopez said in a brief video posted online. “If there is any illegal decision to jail me, then I will accept that decision and that infamous persecution by the state.”

The protesters, mostly in better-off eastern Caracas, have vowed to stay in the streets until they force president Nicolas Maduro from power, although there is no sign of that happening.

In a late-night nationally televised broadcast, Mr Maduro told Lopez to hand himself in “without a show,” and said he had rejected pressure from Washington to drop the case against him.

He announced that he had ordered the three US consular officials to leave the country for conspiring against his government. He did not name them, but said the foreign minister would give more details later.

US state department officials in Washington were not immediately available for comment.

“Venezuela doesn’t take orders from anyone!” Mr Maduro said.

He says his government is facing small bands of “trained fascists” who are determined to block roads, damage property and fight with the security forces. For a fourth night, police fired teargas to clear about 1,000 protesters in eastern Caracas.

In Mr Lopez’s video, he said he would deliver a petition to the state prosecutor’s office tomorrow after his supporters marched from the capital’s Plaza Venezuela. He would join the rally at the end and the visit the office alone, he said.

Mr Maduro called on employees of state oil company PDVSA to march to the presidential palace tomorrow on the same route - something which might put off some in the opposition.

In a day of twists and turns unusual even for Venezuela’s turbulent politics, Mr Maduro said his government had received a US request to sit down with the opposition, free arrested protesters, and drop the charges against Mr Lopez.

“I replied that I don’t accept threats from anyone in this world,” Mr Maduro said, flourishing his printed response in a manner very much like his mentor, the late Hugo Chavez.

Showing news photos to the camera of protesters in Caracas lighting gasoline bombs and fighting with riot police, as well as burned-out police vehicles, he addressed the US leader.

“Here you go Obama! This is the result of their actions, the fascists!” he said. “Nothing will stop us from defeating them.”

Reuters