A handout photo made available by Miraflores Presidential Palace shows Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro during a meeting with members of the Armed Forces in Caracas, Venezuela, on May 4. Photo by Miraflores Presidential Palace/EPA-EFE
June 15 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday accused the government of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of illegally installing a new regime-friendly national electoral council that will oversee elections scheduled for later this year.
In a statement, the United States' top diplomat said the people of Venezuela "demand and deserve" free elections, claiming this move will deprive them of that.
On Friday, the Supreme Court, which is packed with Maduro supporters, named a new National Electoral Council that Pompeo said is a continuation of the regime's efforts to "manipulate" the Venezuelan Constitution as it is the responsibility of the National Assembly to elect the council's members.
Juan Guaido, leader of the opposition National Assembly and self-appointed interim president, described the Supreme Court as "illegitimate" and its appointing of members to the electoral council as "a new blow to democracy."
The United States leads a roughly 60-country coalition that recognizes Guaido as Venezuela's interim president following Maduro's re-election being deemed as illegitimate in late 2018. Since then, the Trump administration has been applying diplomatic and economic pressure on the socialist president to step down.
Maduro has been able to cling to power despite the repeatedly imposed sanctions and diplomatic isolation due to support from Russia, Cuba and China, U.S. officials have said.
Pompeo on Monday said the newly selected National Electoral Council will "rubber-stamp" the decisions of the Maduro region and "ignore the conditions required for free elections."
In early January, the Trump administration called for negotiations with Maduro over establishing a transitional government, a seemingly softer approach than the previous yearlong hard-line policy of isolation it had been pursuing.
Conditions of that transitional government include an independent electoral council, Pompeo reiterated Monday.
"This step by the regime and its Supreme Court takes Venezuela even further away from a democratic transition," he said.