Foreign diplomats urge Venezuela’s Maduro to hand over power

Nicolas Maduro is poised to be sworn in for a second term as president of Venezuela. (AP Photo)
Updated 04 January 2019
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Foreign diplomats urge Venezuela’s Maduro to hand over power

  • The strong rebuke from the Lima Group urging Maduro to hand over power to the opposition-controlled National Assembly comes days before his Jan. 10 inauguration
  • A once-wealthy oil nation, Venezuela is in crisis after two decades of socialist rule, marked by hyperinflation

LIMA, Peru: Diplomats from a dozen Latin American countries and Canada on Friday urged President Nicolas Maduro to abstain from being sworn in for a second term and cede power until new elections can be held, saying it is the only way to restore democracy in Venezuela.
The strong rebuke from the Lima Group urging Maduro to hand over power to the opposition-controlled National Assembly comes days before his Jan. 10 inauguration to a six-year term widely rejected as illegitimate.
Even before announcing its decision, the gathering in Peru’s capital prompted a sharp response from Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, who said the coalition is taking orders directly from US President Donald Trump, which Caracas frequently accuses of spearheading an economic war against the country.
“What a display of humiliating subordination!” Arreaza said on Twitter.
A once-wealthy oil nation, Venezuela is in crisis after two decades of socialist rule, marked by hyperinflation that makes it difficult for people to afford scarce food and medicine. An estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans have migrated from their country since 2015, according to the United Nations.
The Lima Group formed more than a year ago to advocate for a solution to Venezuela’s crisis that threatens regional instability.
Immediately following Maduro’s May 20 re-election, the coalition said it refused to recognize the results, decrying the vote as failing to meet “international standards of a democratic, free, just and transparent process.”
Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico are among the group’s members. Peruvian Foreign Minister Nestor Popolizio recently had said his country would propose that Lima Group members break diplomatic relations with Venezuela.
However, the political make-up of the coalition has recently shifted, most notably in Mexico.
The newly elected government of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is a member of the coalition but abstained from the vote.
His administration has adopted a policy of non-intervention, and Maduro traveled to Obrador’s inauguration, meeting privately with the new Mexican leader.
The United States is not formally a member of the Lima Group, but US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo participated in the meeting via video conference.
It follows Pompeo’s recent visit to Latin America during which he attended the inauguration of Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro and then stopped in Colombia to meet with President Ivan Duque. Both Bolsonaro and Duque signaled a united stance against Maduro’s government aligned with the United States.
The Trump administration considers Maduro’s government a “dictatorship,” sanctioning roughly 70 top officials and blocking US banks from doing business with Venezuela, putting a financial strangle-hold on the cash-strapped country.
Geoff Ramsey, a Venezuela researcher at the Washington Office on Latin America, called the optics of Pompeo’s presence in Friday’s meeting “terrible.”
The Lima Group was created to showcase regional concern for the crisis among Latin American countries and Pompeo’s involvement furthers a perception that the US has been quietly directing its moves, he said.
Rather, the coalition should push for neutral actors to open dialogues between Maduro’s government and opposition leaders, finding ways to reduce mounting international pressure and reaching a peaceful resolution in Venezuela, Ramsey said.
“I think what the region needs to do now is to be part of the solution and not part of the problem,” Ramsey said. “Isolating the government and continuing to pile on the pressure without channeling some kind of productive release hasn’t produced productive results.”


Australia summons Turkish envoy over ‘offensive’ Erdogan comments

Updated 1 min 47 sec ago
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Australia summons Turkish envoy over ‘offensive’ Erdogan comments

SYDNEY: Australia’s prime minister said he would summon Turkey’s ambassador in Canberra on Wednesday to explain “very offensive” comments made by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the wake of the Christchurch massacre.
Erdogan, while campaigning for local elections, presented the attack as part of an assault on Turkey and Islam and warned anti-Muslim Australians would suffer the same fate as soldiers at Gallipoli, a blood-drenched WWI battle.
“I find it a very offensive comment, of course I do, and I will be calling in the Turkish ambassador today to meet with me to discuss these issues,” Scott Morrison told national broadcaster ABC.
Erdogan had already been sharply rebuked by New Zealand for his comments and for using gruesome video shot by the Christchurch mosque gunman as an election campaign prop.
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters protested on Monday that such politicization of the massacre “imperils the future and safety of the New Zealand people and our people abroad, and it’s totally unfair.”
Peters announced on Tuesday that he would be traveling to Turkey this week at Istanbul’s request to attend a special meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Three Turkish nationals were wounded in the rampage that killed 50 worshippers at two mosques in the southern New Zealand city of Christchurch on Friday.
The accused gunman, a self-avowed white supremacist from Australia, livestreamed much of the attack and spread a manifesto on social media claiming it was a strike against Muslim “invaders.”
The manifesto references Turkey and the minarets of Istanbul’s famed Hagia Sophia, now a museum, that was once a church before becoming a mosque during the Ottoman empire.
“This is not an isolated event, it is something more organized,” he said during a campaign event on Monday in Canakkale in western Turkey.
“They are testing us with the message they are sending us from New Zealand, 16,500 km (10,250 miles) from here.”
Erdogan did not project the video at the Monday event.
Peters said he had complained directly to visiting Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.