Thu, Mar 07, 2019 8:08

Venezuela to expel German ambassador


Venezuela says it will expel the German ambassador to the country, accusing him of meddling in internal affairs.

Venezuela says it will expel the German ambassador to the country, accusing him of meddling in internal affairs.

Daniel Kriener was among the diplomats who helped opposition leader Juan Guaidó return to Venezuela on Monday by meeting him at the airport.

Germany, which recognizes Guaidó as interim president, says the decision will only escalate tensions.

Meanwhile, the US says it is revoking the visas of 77 more people linked to President Nicolás Maduro.

They include government officials and their families, Vice-President Mike Pence said. 

On Friday, 49 other people had their visas revoked as part of the US pressure on Maduro to resign.

Maduro has accused Guaidó of trying to mount a coup against him with the help of "US imperialists". 

Rallies for and against the government are due to be held on Saturday.

'Persona non grata'

A government statement declared Ambassador Kriener "persona non grata" and accused him of "recurrent acts of interference in internal affairs".

Kriener has been given 48 hours to leave Venezuela, German broadcaster Tagesschau reports.

Guaidó had defied a travel ban and was widely expected to be arrested. 

But when he flew into Simón Bolivar airport in Caracas, he was let through immigration and welcomed by a group of diplomats who escorted him out of the building.

Diplomats from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, France, The Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain and the US were at airport to receive Guaidó but so far only Kriener has been targeted over this incident.

Earlier, officials from the US, the EU and a number of Latin American countries had warned the Venezuelan government not to arrest or harm Guaidó.

Before Guaidó's arrival, Ambassador Kriener had said he and other diplomats wanted "to help and support a safe return" for the opposition leader.

The German embassy in Caracas later tweeted (in Spanish): "Juan Guaidó's return to Venezuela is a step towards a political and peaceful process to overcome the Venezuelan crisis."

Venezuela's foreign ministry said that it would not accept a foreign diplomat acting "in clear alignment with the conspiracy agenda of extremist sectors of the Venezuelan opposition".

Venezuela has in the past two years expelled the US top diplomat as well as those from Brazil and Canada.

Journalists missing

In a separate development, the US state department said it was "deeply concerned" over reports that a US journalist had been detained in Caracas.

Venezuelan military counter-intelligence officers raided the home of Cody Weddle early on Wednesday and took him into custody, according to local NGO Espacio Publico, which tracks violations of freedom of expression.

The 28-year-old freelance journalist has lived in Venezuela since 2014 working for the UK's Telegraph, the Miami Herald, ABC, CBC and others, the Miami newspaper reports.

His assistant, Venezuelan journalist Carlos Camacho, was also detained after his home was raided, Espacio Publico said. 

Their whereabouts are unknown.

Several local and foreign journalists have been briefly detained while working in Caracas in recent weeks. Some have since been deported.

Last week, award-winning Univision journalist Jorge Ramos and his team were deported after being briefly detained in the presidential palace where they had been interviewing President Maduro. 

The veteran Mexican-born American journalist said Maduro "had not liked" some of his questions.

The Maduro government is becoming increasingly isolated as more and more countries blame it for the economic crisis which is crippling the oil-rich country and which has prompted more than three million people to leave Venezuela.

Guaidó, who leads the opposition-controlled National Assembly, declared himself interim president on 23 January and has been at loggerheads with President Maduro ever since.

He has been recognized as interim president by more than 50 countries but Maduro retains the support of his close allies Russia, Cuba and China among others.

The government-dominated Supreme Court imposed a travel ban on the 35-year-old opposition politician.