Caracas expels German envoy for backing Guaido as USA tightens sanctions

Caracas expels German envoy for backing Guaido as USA tightens sanctions

The opposition is also seeking to capitalize on momentum spurred by Guaido's triumphant return to Venezuela on Monday to press for an end to Maduro's rule.

"The moment has arrived and our call, our request, and our complete support for public employees, is to bring about this strike", Guaido told a news conference after meeting with state workers.

The United States and some 50 other countries have recognized Guaido as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, arguing that Maduro's re-election previous year was invalid - partly because popular opposition candidates were barred from running.

Venezuela has been rocked by protests since January 10, when Maduro was sworn in for a second term following a vote boycotted by the opposition.

Guaido returned to Caracas on Monday after a 10-day Latin America tour aimed at mustering support for his campaign to bring humanitarian aid to Venezuela, oust Maduro and stage fresh elections.

The socialist government had kept unusually silent since Guaido landed, with no top officials commenting until Maduro spoke at the ceremony, held at the military barracks where Chavez launched a failed 1992 coup.

"That's ultimately a decision for Venezuelans to make", Abrams said.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, an influential voice in advocating U.S measures against Maduro, warned that the Venezuelan government could still act against Guaido in ways that it has refined against other opposition voices.

He also warned the United States is weighing more sanctions to pressure Maduro.

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Guaido says Maduro's presidency is illegitimate after he secured re-election past year in a vote widely considered a sham.

As part of his challenge to Maduro, Guaido is attempting to take control of the state bureaucracy, which he considers to have been "kidnapped" through blackmail and persecution.

Unions from the oil industry, basic services, the public bank and local government took part in Tuesday's meeting, union leader Ana Yanez told AFP.

Guaido said the strikes would be staggered and aim to paralyze the public sector. "In the town halls, people only go to work three days a week and even then barely half the day", said Yanez.

Speaking at an event marking the sixth anniversary of the death of his predecessor and political mentor, Hugo Chavez, Maduro said: "While a crazed minority continues with their hatred, with their bitterness, it's their problem".

He also called for big protests on Saturday, a tactic that has sometimes been countered by Maduro loyalists with flag-waving rallies of their own.

Guaido had secretly left Venezuela for Colombia, in violation of a Supreme Court order, to coordinate efforts there on February 23 to send humanitarian aid into Venezuela to alleviate widespread shortages of food and medicine.

During his travels, Guaido met US Vice President Mike Pence and the leaders of Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile and Ecuador.

Venezuela is wracked by a humanitarian crisis that has seen poverty soar, with an estimated 2.7 million people leaving the country since 2015.

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