Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Venezuela freed five foreign journalists Thursday after a crackdown this week that saw nine detentions and officials in Chile, France and Spain demanding their release.
Three EFE journalists and two French reporters were freed Thursday, El Pais reported. They had been covering political developments in Venezuela, including protests by thousands opposed to military-backed President Nicolas Maduro. The Venezuelan leader is in a power struggle with opposition and National Assembly leader Juan Guaido, recognized as legitimate leader by several nations.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said earlier he "rejects with energy" Wednesday's capture of the EFE journalists in Caracas. The agency said they included two from Colombia and one from Spain.
"The first thing that those in power try to do in situations like these is to suppress what is going on," EFE President Fernando Garea told Spanish TV channel Antena 3. He disputed the claim they entered Venezuela unlawfully.
Separately, two journalists from Quotidien French were detained Tuesday as they were filming the outside of the Miraflores government palace, where Maduro's government is based, Le Monde had reported.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Agnes von der Muhll said earlier Thursday that Paris had "demanded" their freedom.
Also, two Chilean journalists were detained in the government palace for over 15 hours after a Tuesday conference before they were freed and deported to Chile on Wednesday, arriving to Santiago early Thursday. They described intimidation attempts, La Tercera reported.
"Given the way they sought to intimidate them, the insecurity they tried to create in them ... they were put under psychological pressure, isolating them from the others. That is the way dictatorships function," Chilean Foreign Minister Roberto Ampuero said Thursday after meeting with the television journalists.
Two Venezuelan journalists who reported the Chileans' detention were also captured for several hours in Caracas earlier this week. They were freed after an interrogation, El Nacional reported.
The main union of journalists in Venezuela, known as SNTP, called for a protest Thursday against Maduro's recent initiatives to crack down on foreign and domestic press.
Maduro -- and his predecessor, former President Hugo Chavez -- have long cracked down on national press and created situations that forced the sales of media, including television channels. In December, it forced 75-year-old newspaper El Nacional to eliminate print editions by cutting its access to printing paper.
Permits for foreign correspondents to work in Venezuela have also long been restricted.
The journalists' detentions came as thousands of Venezuelans demonstrated Wednesday to support calls by Guaido that humanitarian aid be allowed into the country. Guaido last week was appointed interim leader of Venezuela by the National Assembly, which declared Maduro's presidency illegitimate. They argue Maduro's re-election last year was not legal.
The United States, European Union and most Latin American neighbors have recognized Guaido as the legitimate ruler. The EU recognized Guaido Thursday. Some nations, like Russia and Mexico, still yield to Maduro.
Guaido said a civil war is unlikely because 90 percent of people want Maduro to step down. Maduro in the meantime, faces increasing pressure like possible new U.S. sanctions on Caracas' main source of revenue -- its oil exports.
The United States has banned U.S.-based companies, including Venezuelan state oil subsidiary Citgo, from making crude oil purchases. The ban is likely to worsen the economic and political crisis in Venezuela that's led to hyperinflation and food and medicine shortages.
More than three million Venezuelans have left in recent years, according to U.N. figures, and the country's homicide rate last year was the highest in the region, largely due to politically-related violence.