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Monday December 11th, 2017 5:52PM

The Latest: Venezuelan opposition mum on Trump military talk

By The Associated Press
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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The latest on Venezuela's political crisis (all times local):

4:05 p.m.

Donald Trump's talk of a "military option" for Venezuela may have drawn rebuke from several foreign governments, some even critical of President Nicolas Maduro, but so far it has been met with a resounding silence from the Venezuelan opposition.

A few hundred opponents of Maduro marched Saturday in eastern Caracas to protest the recent jailing of several opposition mayors. Demonstrations that a few weeks ago attracted hundreds of thousands of people have petered out since the government succeeded in seating a constitutional assembly.

Now many fear Trump's remarks will bolster Maduro's claim that he is the target of a U.S.-backed coup attempt and further distract attention from Venezuela's crushing economic problems. There is also concern that Maduro could use Trump's heated rhetoric to broaden a crackdown on the opposition, accusing it of acting as a virtual fifth column to sabotage his rule.

Amid the mounting tensions there has been no statement from the main opposition alliance or its leaders. Meanwhile, its website remains hacked for a second straight day with a photo of a finger-pointing Trump under the banner "I Want You to Kill Your Brothers and Sisters."

___

2:45 p.m.

Venezuela's newly installed constitutional assembly has decided to push up gubernatorial elections by two months to October, though many in the opposition see it as a false promise unlikely to ever materialize.

Delegates to the all-powerful body rewriting the South American nation's constitution voted unanimously Saturday to hold elections in all 23 states Oct. 10.

They were supposed to take place last year but were delayed twice. Critics say the government feared a thumping at the polls amid a crushing economic crisis that has collapsed support for its socialist revolution.

Opposition parties swallowed a tough pill this week and met a deadline to enroll candidates despite widespread mistrust in electoral authorities. The constitutional assembly could still decide to scrap elections altogether or alter the voting rules.

On Friday it refused to ratify the lone opposition member on the electoral board after he refused to show up and swear obedience to the constitutional assembly.

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2:45 p.m.

The South American trade bloc Mercosur is criticizing U.S. President Donald Trump's suggestion of a possible "military option" to deal with the crisis in Venezuela.

The bloc consisting of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay says in a statement Saturday that "the only acceptable means of promoting democracy are dialogue and diplomacy."

It adds that "the repudiation of violence and any option that implies the use of force is inalienable and constitutes the fundamental basis for democratic coexistence."

Mercosur has also been critical of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's creation of an all-powerful special assembly. Last week the bloc suspended Venezuela indefinitely for failing to uphold democratic norms.

___

12:35 p.m.

The government of Colombia is also rejecting President Donald Trump's suggestion of a possible "military option" to resolve the deepening crisis in Venezuela.

The Foreign Ministry says in a statement that it condemns "military measures and the use of force," and that all efforts to resolve Venezuela's crisis should be peaceful and respect its sovereignty.

President Juan Manuel Santos has called his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro a dictator and held out the possibility of breaking off diplomatic relations if Maduro doesn't reverse course on measures seen as increasingly authoritarian.

Saturday's statement by the Foreign Ministry reiterated concerns about a "breakdown in the democratic order" in Venezuela and called for the U.N. secretary-general to help negotiate a solution.

The reaction from Washington's staunchest ally in South America comes a day before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrives in Colombia to begin a four-nation tour of the region.

U.S. officials previewing the trip before Trump's remarks said Venezuela is expected to feature prominently in Pence's discussions with leaders.

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12:25 p.m.

Venezuela's government is energetically rejecting U.S. President Donald Trump's talk of a potential "military option" to resolve the country's political crisis, calling it the most egregious act of belligerence against Venezuela in a century and a threat to Latin America's stability.

The response came in a statement read Saturday by Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza in a meeting with foreign diplomats. They included Lee McClenny, the head of the U.S. embassy in Caracas.

Arreaza called Trump the "boss of the empire" and said his comments fit a pattern of aggression against Venezuelan sovereignty and violate international law and the U.N. charter.

Arreaza accused Washington of seeking to destabilize and divide Latin America and the Caribbean. He also thanked several governments, including ones recently critical of President Nicolas Maduro, for condemning Trump's comments.

Arreaza called on "good-minded" Venezuelans to put aside their political differences and unite in rejecting Trump's comments.

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11:55 a.m.

The top U.S. diplomat in Venezuela has arrived to hear what is likely to be a stinging rebuke to President Donald Trump's talk of a possible "military option" to resolve the country's political crisis.

A straight-faced Lee McClenny walked into the colonial government building known as the Yellow House in Caracas on Saturday along with other foreign diplomats for a meeting with Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza. He did not make any comments.

Following the meeting Arreaza is expected to deliver a government statement responding to Trump's remarks, which have been panned by government allies as a dramatic escalation of the country's political conflict.

The United States and Venezuela have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010. McClenny has been serving as charge d'affaires in Caracas since 2014.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP World News
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