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At U.N. asks Pompeo countries to "choose a site" in Venezuela



UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told United Nations countries on Saturday to "pick a page" on Venezuela and urged them to return to the Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido and called for free and fair elections soon as possible.

Pompeo addressed the 15th Member Security Council, which after his request after Washington met a number of countries in the region, recognized Guaido as head of state and urged Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to step down.

"Now is the time for any other nation to choose a side … Either you stand with the forces of freedom or you are in league with Maduro and his chaos," Pompeo told the council. "We urge all members of the Security Council to support Venezuela's democratic transition and temporary President Guaido role."

Guaido, who took the government on January 5, proclaimed his interim president on Wednesday, although Maduro, who has led the oil nation since 201

3 and has the support of the armed forces, has refused to come down.

Maduro crossed for re-election last May due to low sales and allegations of abolition by the government. The domestic opposition, the US and right-wing Latin American governments refused to acknowledge the outcome of the vote.

During Maduro, Venezuela is immersed in turmoil with food shortages and daily protests amid an economic and political crisis that has triggered mass migration and inflation, rising to 10 million percent this year.

On Saturday, Britain, Germany, France, Spain and Belgium said they would recognize Guaido as temporary president unless Maduro called fresh elections within eight days.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks in the United Nations during a Security Council on the situation in Venezuela in Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA on January 26, 2019. REUTERS / Carlo Allegri

"Europe gives us eight days? Where do you get? that you have the power to set a deadline or an ultimatum for a sovereign people, "said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza to the Security Council. "It's almost childish."

Arreaza said that Maduro's government still hopes to establish communication and dialogue with US President Donald Trump's administration. "That offer is," he told the council.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called eight-day ultimatum "absurd". Moscow opposes US efforts and has accused Washington of supporting a coup attempt whereby Venezuela is at the heart of a growing geopolitical duel.

"It's not about foreign intervention in Venezuela," said former US diplomat Elliott Abrams, whom Pompeo called Friday to lead US efforts on Venezuela, the Council said.

Russia failed in an attempt to stop Saturday's Security Council meeting. China, South Africa and Equatorial Guinea voted with Moscow to block the meeting, while nine countries voted for the meeting. Ivory Coast and Indonesia abstained.

"We strongly condemn those who push the Venezuelan community to the edge of a carnage. The United States paints a picture of a confrontation between the Maduro regime and the people of Venezuela. This image is far from reality," Nebenzia Security Council said.

Russia, China, South Africa and Equatorial Guinea also blocked an American push to the UN Security Council, which expresses full support for Venezuela's National Assembly as the country's "only democratically elected institution".

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"China does not interfere with other countries' internal affairs. We hope that the country accusing others may do the same," China's U.N. Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu, referring to the United States.

The United States has signaled that it was ready to take economic measures to try to drive Maduro out of power.

Pompeo told reporters Saturday that he hopes countries "will ensure that they interrupt their financial systems from the Maduro regime and allow assets belonging to the Venezuelan people to go to the legitimate governors of that state."

Further Reporting of Humeyra Pamuk in Washington, Editing by William Maclean and Diane Craft

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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