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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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jebutler February 18 2014 at 8:44 AM

This is what happens when a socialist country runs out of the 1%'ers money. Oh, the oil? They sold that too and stored in in secret accounts for a "safety net" (for themselves), just in case they run out of other peoples money.

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BONNA HEANEY February 18 2014 at 1:36 AM

Send all the illegals to Venezuela with there ancor kids !

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steblawar February 17 2014 at 8:02 PM

Hmm, sounds like they claim they've been "snooping" on our embassy e-mails. Heck, I thought we were the only ones who tried to snoop on other governments. Hey, why would anyone in Venezuala protest their wonderful government? Just because their economy is resembling the Titanic and they have the highest crime rate in the western hemisphere (trailing only Afghanistan in the world, per "crime index" rank) couldn't possibly be a reason for discontent ... could it?

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worlock358 February 18 2014 at 1:30 AM

Get rid of all their diplomats now and that includes the clowns at the UN, which is a circus anyhow. Then let Lopez know that we support his efforts, and will send down all our illegals to help him get rid of Maduro. We will even arm them.

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keywesttexas February 17 2014 at 8:15 PM

A little bird told Maduro to do it... What a moron! But, worse, what morons his supporters are!

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ARNIE R February 17 2014 at 8:18 PM

So, just leave and be over with it......

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ficadoor February 18 2014 at 1:26 AM

Hugo's dead? Awww. American socialists must be so distraut!

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eeodjo February 18 2014 at 12:51 AM

It is unfortunate for the people of Venezuela to have narrow minded President like Maduro. He doesn't seem to know how to handle his own people, who are protesting for his misguiding leadership. So he turns around and accuses the United States for siding and inciting the student activist to protest. If only they know how to managed their own government like the way they know how to play baseball. Sorry to hear about your country's turmoil, Pable Sandoval.

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1 reply
pmrspnj2 eeodjo February 18 2014 at 1:06 AM

governments should not HANDLE PEOPLE !
that kind of statement makes it seem like the government is treating the people like unruly children who cannot follow government instructions..

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chuck February 18 2014 at 12:35 AM

looks like another oboma screw up!

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3 replies
arelisbonilla February 18 2014 at 12:35 AM

I was on this country last month for two weeks visiting my husband's family for the first time. I witnessed all the long lines people have to make just to purchase basic articles of first necessity and food. Weekdays when driving around the avenues all you see is lines everywhere. There is so much sorrow on the eyes of these people I was heart broken. They are hopeless and are scare to protest because the government's army (whom's top officials are cubans) will kill them. If they vote against the government they get fired from their jobs. Seriously these people need help and I'm glad they're are going out there to defend their civil rights, and if things get too rough sure let's help them to freedom, is the 21st century already, Democracy is what's Rocking now a-days.

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1 reply
truthvolcano10231955 arelisbonilla February 18 2014 at 12:54 AM

we are well on our way to that same status thanks to libs and Obummer.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
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