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Venezuela leader expels US officials amid protests



CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- President Nicolas Maduro's government on Monday gave three U.S. Embassy officials 48 hours to leave the country, accusing the Obama administration of siding with student protesters who Venezuela accuses of inciting violence.

The announcement by Foreign Minister Elias Jaua came amid fears that renewed clashes could erupt Tuesday when both pro- and anti-government activists have announced plans for demonstrations in the capital.

Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said that the senior U.S. consular officers were trying to infiltrate Venezuelan universities, the hotbed of the recent unrest, under the cover of doing visa outreach. Repeating charges by Maduro, who has expelled American diplomats twice before, Jaua said that the U.S. is conspiring with opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and student activists in an attempt to oust the socialist president.

The U.S. has denied the charges but is expressing concern about rising violence that led to three deaths last week during anti-government demonstrations, and about the government's attempts to block peaceful protests.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that Lopez's arrest would have a "chilling effect" on Venezuelans' right to free expression.

More than 1,000 students, who have spent the past week on the streets alternating between peaceful protests by day and battles with police at night, marched on Monday to Venezuela's telecommunications regulator to demand it lift all restrictions on the news media's coverage of the unfolding political crisis. There were no reports of new disturbances.

Several journalists were harassed and detained, and Colombia's news channel NTN24 was taken off cable television, while covering protests Wednesday that ended in a battle between student demonstrators and security forces backed by armed pro-government militias.

Three people were killed - two students and a pro-government demonstrator. News videos and photographs taken at the time indicate that at least one of the students was killed when militias fired directly at protesters.

Maduro accuses Lopez of being behind the violence and the head of a "fascist" plot to overthrow him two months after his party's candidates won mayoral elections by a landslide. In a rally with thousands of supporters Saturday Maduro dared Lopez, a Harvard-trained former mayor, to turn himself in after a court ordered his arrest on charges ranging from vandalism of public property to homicide.

Lopez said that he doesn't fear going to jail to defend his beliefs. In a video message Sunday, he called on supporters to march with him in white shirts to the Interior Ministry, where he'll deliver a petition demanding the government protect citizens' rights to peacefully protest.

"I haven't committed any crime," said Lopez, who hasn't been seen in public since a Wednesday night news conference after the bloodshed. "If there is a decision to legally throw me in jail I'll submit myself to this persecution."

To avoid another violent clash, Lopez aides on Monday rerouted their upcoming protest away from the central plaza in Caracas where a competing march of pro-government oil workers will talk place.

Maduro called for the Tuesday march in a televised address Sunday in which he blasted the U.S. for trying to stir unrest to regain dominance of South America's largest oil producer.

As evidence to support those claims, Jaua on Monday presented what he said was a series of e-mails from embassy officials from 2009-2011 soliciting funding from Washington to support student groups in Venezuela. He said more recent communications also exist, but are under wraps during an ongoing investigation.

The three expelled officials - Breeann Marie McCusker, Jeffrey Gordon Elsen and Kristofer Lee Clark - all enjoyed the rank of second secretary, and two of them were vice consuls, Jaua said.

In Washington, the State Department said it hadn't received any formal notification of the expulsions. It said reports that the U.S. is helping to organize protests are "baseless and false" and called on the Venezuelan government to engage the opposition in "meaningful dialogue."

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1000|Char. 1000  Char.
1 February 17 2014 at 7:34 PM

He''ll American haven't you learned anything YET.....!!!! Stop meddeling in other Countries affairs, befor they come to Washington and start the state **** here. American mind your own business and leave other countries alone. Wake up American

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Mr. ROC February 17 2014 at 8:46 PM

Venezuela is the poster child country for what Socialism and a corrupt top down government will get a population. 1. high murder rate, 2. poverty rate. With the oil money alone, the people of this country should have a very high standard of living. Mexico should too. But they have chosen to squander their natural resources. Mexico does not even try to capture the natural gas that is a by-product of their oil fields. Both countries have great climates. What a tourist haven!!!! This my friends, out their in wonderland, is not the fault of any of the citizens of the United States. Corrupt government's do not need our help making their people mad at them. They do a good job all by themselves.

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siscosdad February 17 2014 at 8:49 PM

Wuff! Communist Venezuela is kicking us out because protestors are condemning Venezuelan .policy ? ( Insert communist, Castro loving communism here) Since when did the USA pander to communists? Venezuela thinks they have a big stage, and that they are an important country... good pals with the Iranians, etc., who work hard to destroy America. What Venezuela is, is a third-world country trying to make an impact on the civilized portion of the world. Good luck with that. As much as they hate us, they still sell oil to the U.S. Capitalism in Venezuela? Perish the thought.

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tom.collins99 February 17 2014 at 8:54 PM

Now we are getting kicked out of Venezuela. It seems that no country wants American diplomats or politicians in their countries. Why is that? Has the credibility of the Unites States dropped that low? Guess it has. Soon Canada will stop tourists from entering the country.

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1 reply
virginiasoria13 tom.collins99 February 17 2014 at 9:23 PM

PLEASE HELP US SPREAD THE WORD #SOSVENEZUELA #IAMYOURVOICEVENEZUELA. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFS6cP9auDc

watch the video, this is not about United States being bad, this is because our government always blames somebody else!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
OSHP367 February 17 2014 at 8:56 PM

Vacate the country, cut all aid, block all trade, and let Venezfreakinzuala rot. Call us when you have a Democratic government.

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1 reply
rafo2005 OSHP367 February 17 2014 at 9:25 PM

i wish it will happen

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neutralslamm February 17 2014 at 8:59 PM

“The big picture,” the future of Obama’s American

Flag Reply +1 rate up
demigoff1 February 18 2014 at 11:14 AM

Get the hell out of there.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
Linda February 18 2014 at 11:19 AM

Why is it our faulta their economy isn't doing well, for they have a lot of crime? Same as here.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
capttcwhittaker Linda February 18 2014 at 12:15 PM

That's right Linda - we have our own financial problems here. Our treasury is writing checks they can't cash!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
binlo1 February 17 2014 at 9:05 PM

I'm surprised it has taken this long for protesters to start pushing for change.

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markiesplatter86 February 17 2014 at 6:50 PM

Look at this Guy. The Great medicine Man for Uncle.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
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