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France ups pressure on Venezuela's Maduro as EU ultimatum looms
France has urged Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to announce presidential elections by "this evening", otherwise it will recognise National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido as interim president. The ultimatum is part of an EU deadline which expires on Sunday.
"The election of Nicolas Maduro in May last year was a farce," Nathalie Loiseau, the French minister for European Affairs, told national broadcasters RTL, Le Figaro and LCI, Sunday.
"If by midnight, he fails to commit to holding presidential elections, we will consider Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela," she said.
France is not alone. Britain, Germany and Spain, have also said they will recognise Guaido as interim president unless Maduro calls snap presidential elections by Sunday at midnight.
The United States and several Latin American countries have already thrown their weight behind Guaido.
So far, Maduro has stood firm in resisting the EU ultimatum.
Venezuela’s foreign minister last week insisted the embattled leader remained the legitimate president despite US-led pressure.
Maduro has been in office since 2013. On 10 January, he was inaugurated for a second term following last year's dubious election, which most critics say was flawed.
On Saturday, he threatened to bring forward parliamentary elections in a bid to sideline opposition leader Guaido's challenge to his authority.
France's EU minister called his bluff. "Maduro says 'he wants to hold early parliamentary elections,' but what he is saying is 'I want to get rid of the National Assembly speaker,' Guaido, who has the support of demonstrators. There again, his response is a farce, a tragic farce," said Loiseau.
The European Parliament has already recognised the 35-year-old as Venezuela's defacto leader, however the soon-to-be 27-nation bloc has so far avoided a clear position on Guaido.
European and Latin American countries that form an "international contact group" hoping to end Venezuela's political crisis will hold their first meeting in Montevideo, Uruguay on Thursday, the joint hosts announced Sunday.