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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."

Join the discussion

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kmcc895370 February 17 2014 at 7:37 PM

The State Dept - "We didn't have nothing to do with it . . . . .but you really should have meaningful dialog with the opposition." I guess this is one time our government IS transparent and it's kind of embarassing for our citizens to see how they talk out of both sides of their faces.
Face it State Dept., you've been outed so just shut up and get those 4 people out of there.

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DON February 17 2014 at 6:42 PM

With the national debt the way it is, I can't understand why we send money to countries that don't respect us.

Flag Reply +13 rate up
2 replies
jeanc540 DON February 17 2014 at 6:54 PM

We send money to them to gain control. On the other hand the amount of free oil Venezuela gives to American poor is no match ot what we do for them. I think we need to focus our energy on this country homeless, mentally ill, education, crime and the elderly. Maybe then we will get the blessing we deserve.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
kolblh DON February 17 2014 at 7:00 PM

Venezulia has oil. Where there is oil there are profits. Where there are profits there are big corporations. Where there are big corporations there are political problems. Oil + big business + greed + US meddling = problems.

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1 reply
frozenbull kolblh February 17 2014 at 7:20 PM

ilike the + and = signs

Flag +1 rate up
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

Flag Reply +5 rate up
markiesplatter86 February 17 2014 at 6:48 PM

Don't they like like Taliban.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
kenbushway February 17 2014 at 6:18 PM

See if I was them, I'd be walking my back to the U.S by now if I couldn't find a plane or car right away.
It doesn't take much, you come up to me in a store then start running like something bad is happening I'll soon be ahead of you. All you've got to do is say Ru... you don't have to get to N before I am no longer there.

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Lisa Marie February 18 2014 at 5:28 PM

Attn American Govt.....STOP being ASS KISSERS and focus on your own people instead of others who hate us!!!!! Nobody will ever respect an ASS KISSER...GOT IT WASHINGTON???? F_ING MORONS!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Russ February 17 2014 at 6:04 PM

I guess they will stoop sellig us oil.................Right!!!!!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
markiesplatter86 February 17 2014 at 6:25 PM

You have to Sign In first to leave a comment.back in the early 1980 N.A.S 7.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
dmoree23 February 17 2014 at 7:33 PM

who give a ****!!!!!!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
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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