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Tuesday March 19th, 2019 12:00AM

The Latest: EU calls for fresh elections in Venezuela

By The Associated Press
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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The Latest on the political crisis in Venezuela (all times local):

6:30 a.m.

The European Union is calling for the launch of a political process in Venezuela that would lead to fresh elections after opposition leader Juan Guaido claimed the presidency amid anti-government protests.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherni said in a statement Thursday that the voice of Venezuelans calling for democracy "cannot be ignored."

Mogherini says that "the EU strongly calls for the start of an immediate political process leading to free and credible elections, in conformity with the constitutional order."

She says the EU backs Venezuela's national assembly and that its powers should be restored and respected.

Mogherini is calling for the safety and rights of lawmakers and Guaido to be protected, and says the 28-nation EU stands ready to help support a return to democracy and the rule of law.

___

6:05 a.m.

China is calling on the United States to stay out of Venezuela's current political crisis and says it opposes all outside intervention in the South American country.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Thursday that all parties to the conflict should "remain rational and level-headed and seek a political resolution on the Venezuelan issue through peaceful dialogue within the framework of the Venezuelan Constitution."

Hua said China "opposes external intervention in Venezuela. We hope that the international community will jointly create favorable conditions for this."

She said: "We hope that Venezuela and the United States can respect and treat each other on an equal footing, and deal with their relations based on non-interference in each other's internal affairs."

Over the last decade, China has given Venezuela $65 billion in loans, cash and investment. Venezuela owes more than $20 billion.

China's only hope of being repaid appears to lie in Venezuela ramping up oil production, although low petroleum prices and the country's crashing economy appear to bode poorly for such an outcome.

___

5:35 a.m.

Iran has denounced events in Venezuela, saying the opposition's claim there that it holds the presidency is a "coup" and an attempt to take over power unlawfully.

In Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told reporters on Thursday that the "Islamic Republic of Iran supports the government and people of Venezuela against any sort of foreign intervention and any illegitimate and illegal action such as attempt to make a coup d'etat."

His remarks were carried by the semi-official ISNA news agency.

Ghasemi also condemned what he said is an open and illegal intervention in Venezuela by the U.S. and added hopes that the Venezuelan people will overcome their political rifts and problems through peaceful and legal means.

Tehran has long been an ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

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5:10 a.m.

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom says "the people's right to peacefully demonstrate and freely choose its leaders must be respected" in Venezuela after sometimes violent rallies in the wake of opposition leader Juan Guaido claiming the presidency.

Wallstrom has tweeted that "all violence and the excessive use of force are unacceptable. Democracy must be restored."

Her Danish counterpart Anders Samuelsen says Denmark "will always support legitimate elected democratic institutions — not least the parliamentary assembly including @jguaido Juan Guaido."

The opposition leader had declared himself interim president before a mass of demonstrators in Caracas, saying the "dictatorship" of socialist President Nicolas Maduro should end.

Violence flared again Wednesday across Venezuela, and at least seven deaths were reported in the escalating confrontation with Maduro, who has been increasingly criticized by many nations. Russia, Turkey and other nations support Maduro.

___

4 a.m.

Russian officials and senior lawmakers have reacted angrily to opposition protests in Venezuela that support opposition leader Juan Guaido's claim to the presidency.

Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the information committee at the Federation Council, on Thursday called Guaido's declaration "an attempted coup" backed by the U.S.

Russia has been propping up incumbent President Nicolas Maduro, who took office for a second term earlier this month, with arms deliveries and loans. Maduro visited Moscow in December, seeking Russia's political support and financial support.

"It's impossible to imagine that this was spontaneous," Pushkov said on state-owned Rossiya 24 television station, referring to the opposition protests. "That was a pre-planned action, and it was certainly coordinated by the United States."

President Donald Trump has promised to use the "full weight" of U.S. economic and diplomatic power to push for the restoration of Venezuela's democracy.

Pushkov warned that the showdown between Maduro and Guaido "could lead to a civil conflict, even civil war."

Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Federation Council's foreign affairs committee, in a Facebook post on Thursday accused the U.S. of "inciting protests" in Venezuela.

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3:50 a.m.

A senior official says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called Venezuela's embattled president, Nicolas Maduro, to voice his support after the leader of a united opposition claimed to hold the interim presidency.

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin tweeted early Thursday that Erdogan told Maduro: "'My brother Maduro! Stay strong, we are by your side.'"

Kalin added that Turkey, under Erdogan's leadership, would "maintain its principled stance against coup attempts."

Juan Guaido declared himself interim president before a mass of demonstrators in Caracas on Wednesday. The U.S., Canada and another dozen mostly Latin American countries quickly announced that they supported Guaido's claim to the presidency.

Turkey has cultivated close economic and political ties with Maduro. During a visit to Venezuela in December, Erdogan criticized U.S. sanctions on the crisis-ridden country.

___

1 a.m.

Australia is considering recognizing the rival claimant to Venezuela's presidency after the United States and many Latin American did so.

Congress leader Juan Guaido has declared himself interim president and said it was the only way to end President Nicolas Maduro's "dictatorship."

After the U.S. and others announced their support for Guaido, Maduro fired back late Wednesday by breaking relations with the U.S. and ordering its diplomats to leave. Washington says it will ignore the order.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Thursday that her government is considering recognizing Guaido as president.

She told reporters in Sydney that Australia was concerned about what the "clearly deteriorating political, economic and security and humanitarian situation in Venezuela and it is having significant effects across the Latin American region."

___

12:15 a.m.

Venezuelans are heading into uncharted political waters, with the young leader of a newly united and combative opposition claiming the presidency and socialist President Nicolas Maduro digging in for a fight with the Trump administration.

Violence flared again Wednesday during big protests across Venezuela, and at least seven deaths were reported in the escalating confrontation with Maduro, who has been increasingly criticized by many nations.

Congress leader Juan Guaido turned up the heat by declaring himself interim president before a mass of demonstrators in Caracas. He said it is the only way to end Maduro's "dictatorship."

The U.S., Canada and many Latin American countries quickly announced support for Guaido.

Maduro fired back by breaking relations with the U.S. and ordering its diplomats out. Washington says it will ignore the order.

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