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Venezuela power struggle: Maduro open to talk; Trump calls Guaido

By
Clyde Hughes
Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro said he's willing to negotiate with the opposition, but rejected calls for new elections. Photo courtesy of the Venezuelan government/EPA EFE
Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro said he's willing to negotiate with the opposition, but rejected calls for new elections. Photo courtesy of the Venezuelan government/EPA EFE

Jan. 30 (UPI) -- U.S. President Donald Trump phoned Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido Wednesday, not long after President Nicolas Maduro said he's willing to discuss the ongoing power struggle in Caracas.

Venezuela's National Assembly this month declared Maduro's presidency void on grounds that his 2018 re-election was illegal. The assembly swore in Guaido, the assembly's president and opposition leader, as interim president and countries around the world started to pick sides.

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Amid the controversy, Venezuela has spiraled into violent protests, political marches and unrest.

"I am ready to sit down at the negotiating table with the opposition so that we could talk about what benefits Venezuela," Maduro said Wednesday. He said he's sent letters to Mexico, Uruguay, Bolivia, Russia, the Vatican and other European countries to take part in the process.

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Despite Maduro's openness to talk, the Venezuelan Supreme Court has approved freezing Guaido's assets and barred him from leaving the country.

"We request these preventive measures against Guaido while we compile elements to stop the events that since Jan. 22 have broken the peace of the republic," prosecutor Tarek Saab said in a news conference.

Later Wednesday, Trump called Guaido and pledged U.S. support for his leadership. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the president congratulated Guaido on a "historic assumption of the presidency." Trump also urged Americans to avoid traveling to the South American nation.

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Guaido confirmed the conversation on Twitter, saying Trump stressed "complete backing" for Venezuelan democracy.

The United States has announced sanctions against Caracas' state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela. Oil is a vital source of the country's income.

Maduro has called the U.S. efforts part of a "coup" and said Guaido was nothing more than a "puppet" for the Trump administration.

In an interview with Russian state-run media, Maduro claimed Trump ordered an assassination attempt with help from the Colombian government and mafia. Critics said the accusation was meant to boost local support for his faltering government.

Britain, Spain, Germany and France have threatened to recognize Guaido as Venezuela's president if Maduro doesn't hold new elections within eight days, a prospect Maduro has rejected. The U.S. administration said it considers Guaido Venezuela's "interim" president.

Russia, which has long been an ally to Venezuela, praised the embattled president for being open to discussions.

"Without a doubt, President Maduro's openness to dialogue is highly commendable," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow Wednesday, state-run news agency TASS reported. "According to information I have, no specific proposals [for talks] have been made so far."

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