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Monday September 23rd, 2019 4:32PM

EU chief calls for elections in Venezuela amid aid crisis

By The Associated Press
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MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — A top European Union official on Thursday called for a peaceful solution to Venezuela's crisis through free and transparent presidential elections as desperate residents gathered at the Colombian-Venezuela border demanding embattled President Nicolas Maduro allow in emergency food and medicine.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said an international coalition does not plan to impose a solution but is focused on finding answers to avoid violence or foreign intervention within Venezuela.

"We can have different points of view and readings about the causes of the crisis," Mogherini said. "But we share the same objective, wishing to contribute to a politically peaceful and democratic solution."

The "International Contact Group" met in Uruguay's capital to discuss Venezuela's crisis for the first time since opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido declared himself interim president of the South American nation.

Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez is leading the meeting attended by leaders of 14 countries, including Spain, Italy, Portugal and Sweden.

Guaido, who has backing from some 40 countries including the United States, is seeking to oust Maduro following a 2018 election that many countries say was a sham. Maduro has support from several countries, including Russia and China.

Venezuela's Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez appeared on state TV on Thursday, blaming a plot to overthrow the president on Colombian intelligence, the CIA and exiled Venezuelan opposition lawmaker Julio Borges. Rodriguez showed videotaped statements from suspects that he says proves their case.

"A murderer like Borges must set aside hypocrisy," Rodriguez said. "There's no democracy, no humanitarian aid. What will he say now that his own accomplices gave him away?"

Meanwhile, tensions were playing out in the Colombian border town of Cucuta. Humanitarian assistance from the U.S. is in Colombia and is en route to the town over objections from Maduro, who blames the White House for leading a coup against him.

The Venezuelan military has barricaded the bridge at the border crossing between the two countries in a bid to block the aid from passing.

About a dozen human rights activists on Thursday stood at the metal gate at the entrance to the bridge on Colombia's side. They held flags while Colombian police trucks carrying armed officers and other authorities drove by throughout the day.

Venezuelan Luis Escobar said his wife had advanced breast cancer and urged Maduro to accept the aid.

In tears, he described how his wife was unable to get treatment in Venezuela and that by the time they were able to see a doctor in Colombia, her illness had significantly progressed.

Escobar says that he doesn't want other Venezuelans to suffer his wife's dire fate.

"I am here because, unfortunately, my wife is going to die," Escobar said. "But today I am here for Venezuelans who are suffering the same as my wife. The world has to know about this."

___

Associated Press writer Christine Armario contributed from Cucuta, Colombia.

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