U.S. ad­vo­cates for re­moval of Maduro gov­ern­ment

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - WORLD - By Matthew Lee Matthew Lee is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

The United States stepped up its crit­i­cism of Venezue­lan leader Ni­co­las Maduro on Satur­day with an ex­plicit call for the for­ma­tion of a new gov­ern­ment in the South Amer­i­can coun­try.

The U.S. State De­part­ment said in a state­ment that it stood be­hind the head of Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion-run congress, Juan Guaido, who said on Fri­day that he was pre­pared to step into the pres­i­dency tem­po­rar­ily to re­place Maduro.

The state­ment was the lat­est in a se­ries of Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion at­tacks on Maduro, whose in­au­gu­ra­tion to a new term as pres­i­dent on Thurs­day has been widely de­nounced as il­le­git­i­mate.

“The people of Venezuela de­serve to live in free­dom in a demo­cratic so­ci­ety gov­erned by the rule of law,” State De­part­ment spokesman Robert Pal­ladino said. “It is time to be­gin the or­derly tran­si­tion to a new gov­ern­ment. We support the Na­tional As­sem­bly’s call for all Venezue­lans to work to­gether, peace­fully, to re­store con­sti­tu­tional gov­ern­ment and build a bet­ter fu­ture.

“The United States gov­ern­ment will con­tinue to use the full weight of U.S. eco­nomic and diplo­matic power to press for the restora­tion of democ­racy in Venezuela,” he said in the state­ment, re­leased in Abu Dhabi where Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo was vis­it­ing as part of a Mideast trip.

Pom­peo spoke to Guaido last week shortly after the 35-yearold was elected to lead the Na­tional As­sem­bly.

Pom­peo told re­porters trav­el­ing with him that the events tak­ing place in Venezuela now are “in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant.”

“The Maduro regime is il­le­git­i­mate and the United States will con­tinue ... to work dili­gently to re­store a real democ­racy to that coun­try,” he said. “We are very hope­ful that we can be force for good to al­low the re­gion to come to­gether to de­liver that.”

Guaido, speak­ing to a crowd block­ing a Cara­cas street a day after Maduro’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, said he was will­ing to be­come in­terim leader. But he said he would need support from the pub­lic, the armed forces and other coun­tries and in­ter­na­tional groups be­fore try­ing to form a tran­si­tional gov­ern­ment to hold new elec­tions to re­place Maduro.

Guaido asked Venezue­lans to mass in a na­tion­wide demon­stra­tion on Jan. 23, a his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant date for Venezue­lans — the day when a mass upris­ing over­threw dic­ta­tor Mar­cos Perez Jimenez in 1958.

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