Nicolas Maduro’s embattled government has declared the German ambassador persona non grata and ordered him to leave the country within 48 hours as Venezuela’s political crisis intensified on Wednesday.
The decision to expel Daniel Kriener - who has been based in Caracas since last year - was announced on Twitter by Venezuela’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza.
Mr Arreaza said the decision was based on Daniel Kriener’s “repeated acts of interference in the country’s internal affairs”.
In a statement, Mr Maduro's administration accused Mr Kriener and the German government - which was among those to recognize Mr Maduro's rival Juan Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate leader last month - of "crass" and "unlawful" meddling in Venezuelan affairs.
"As a result, Mr Kriener is given a deadline of 48 hours to leave the territory of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, " the statement added.
The German foreign office said: “We can confirm that ambassador Daniel Kriener has been declared “persona non grata”. We are currently in deliberations on further steps, including with our partners on the ground.”
Germany's foreign minister, Heiko Maas, condemned what he called "an incomprehensible decision" that would further aggravate the situation in Venezuela. Mr Maas said he was recalling the ambassador "for consultations" and that Germany would continue to support Guaido.
Mr Kriener (58) was among a group of foreign diplomats who travelled to Venezuela’s main international airport on Monday to greet Mr Guaido, as he returned to the country following a tour of South America.
“We believe that at this moment we can help for there to be a negotiated political settlement to the crisis here in Venezuela,” he told reporters at the Simon Bolivar airport to the north of Caracas.
Friction between Mr Maduro and European diplomats has been growing since January 10th when Caracas-based ambassadors, including Mr Kriener and his British counterpart, Andrew Soper, boycotted the inauguration ceremony for Mr Maduro’s disputed second term.
Tensions intensified last month when European countries including the UK, Spain, France, Germany, Sweden and Denmark officially recognised Mr Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president after Mr Maduro ignored calls for fresh presidential elections.
Addressing a sitting of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled national assembly on Wednesday, the opposition lawmaker Omar Barboza said the decision reflected “the deepening of the totalitarian behaviour” of Mr Maduro’s government and deserved condemnation.
Mr Guaido also attacked the move. “[KRIENER] enjoys our total support and recognition,” he tweeted. “We have witnessed his absolute dedication to our democracy, his respect for our constitution and his solidarity with the Venezuelan people.”
The United States - Mr Guaido’s most important backer - stepped up its pressure on Mr Maduro on Wednesday as Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, warned foreign banks and financial institutions not to do business with the Venezuelan strongman.
"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.– Guardian