Maduro supporters refuse to leave embassy despite power cut, warnings

Washington: Venezuelan activists are ignoring a trespassing warning and remain holed up in their country's embassy in the United States, highlighting a dispute over who is the legitimate leader of the South American nation.

The activists, who consider socialist Nicolas Maduro to be the legitimate president, have protested inside the embassy in Washington for more than a month, sometimes chanting slogans from the windows of the red-brick building as opposition supporters heckle them from the street.

Despite their dwindling numbers and no power, activists vow to stay inside the Venezuelan embassy in Washington.Credit:AP

They said they planned to stay in the building despite warnings from law enforcement, defying US government recognition of congressional leader Juan Guaido's claim to be Venezuela's rightful leader.

"We are not following the order," activist Kevin Zeese told reporters from a window on the second floor. He said there were four protesters inside and that they still have enough food and water to continue the sit-in.

In the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, security forces deployed around the opposition-controlled congress, the National Assembly, on Tuesday, Caracas time, blocking access to the building ahead of a planned debate there. They said they were investigating the possible presence of explosive devices.

Masked agents from the police intelligence agency as well as National Guard troops guarded the building's perimeter.

Venezuelan security forces form a cordon around the opposition-controlled congress in Caracas, blocking access to MPs and the public.Credit:AP

Meanwhile, the country's top court accused four opposition lawmakers of treason, following similar accusations against 10 legislators this month, escalating the deep political crisis.

The Supreme Court accused MPs Carlos Paparoni, Miguel Pizarro, Franco Casella and Winston Flores of treason and inciting rebellion.

The accusations, in a statement posted on the court's Facebook page, marked the latest step in Maduro's crackdown on Guaido allies.

"This simply gives us more strength," Flores said, calling the Supreme Court's accusations "illegitimate orders from the dictator."

“Undemocratic”: Opposition MP Romel Edgardo Guzamana asks members of the Venezuelan Bolivarian National Police “Why do you not let us pass?”.Credit:AP

"We know they will continue with this process of trying to destroy the National Assembly."

Mexico's Foreign Ministry said later that it was providing "protection and shelter" to Casella in its embassy in Caracas.

The ministry, which stressed its commitment to protecting human rights, also said it would continue to follow a policy of non-intervention in Venezuela.

The congress posted videos on social media of several of its members criticising the police deployment. Opposition MP Biagio Pilieri said police had entered the assembly grounds, allegedly to look for suspected explosives.

The assembly has come under increasing pressure from Maduro since the opposition appealed in vain for a military uprising on April 30. The assembly's vice-president, Edgar Zambrano, was arrested on May 8 for alleged treason and other crimes.

Guaido condemned the court's move and said his envoy in Washington, Carlos Vecchio, would meet Admiral Craig Faller, head of the US Southern Command on Monday.

The Venezuelan opposition is looking for ways to increase international pressure on Maduro. US officials have said "all options are on the table" in the campaign to oust him, though there is no sign that a military operation is imminent.

Maduro, meanwhile, tried to project Venezuelan military resolve as well as his command over forces that have remained loyal despite some defections. He visited navy troops in a nationally televised ceremony and declared they were ready to defend the country.

In Washington, the embassy trespassing warning came after Vecchio, designated as the new ambassador to Washington by Guaido, requested assistance in clearing the building.

The US State Department said that "until the trespassers are gone, no individuals will be permitted to enter the embassy".

A crowd of Venezuelan expatriates who demand the eviction of the activists remained outside the building, along with a large police presence.

The protest started with at least 30 activists staying at the embassy, but their numbers have dwindled considerably. They have been without power since last week.

The US and more than 50 other countries say Maduro's re-election was fraudulent and back Guaido's claim to be Venezuela's interim president. As president of the National Assembly, he invoked the constitution to declare himself interim president in January.

Washington has imposed sanctions on individuals linked to Maduro's government as well as the country's oil industry in an attempt to force a change of government. Maduro, whose allies include Russia and Cuba, says he is the target of a US-designed coup plot.

In Russia on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and said later that he had urged Moscow to end its support for Maduro.

Lavrov defended Russia's position and said the US threats to Maduro's government coupled with Guaido's seeming support for a foreign military intervention, "bear no relation to democracy".

AP, Reuters

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