Venezuela expels 3 US diplomats after protests
Venezuela has ordered three US diplomats to leave the country, accusing them of recruiting students to lead protests that were the OPEC nation's most serious violence since President Nicolas Maduro's April election and in which three people were killed.
Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said the three consular staff had used visa visits to universities as cover for promoting opposition protests by students, adding they had 48 hours to leave the country.
The demonstrations, which have energized the opposition but show few signs they can oust Maduro, continued today with scattered protests in Caracas and various provincial cities.
"They have been visiting universities with the pretext of granting visas," said Jaua, who often faced off against police during his own days as a student demonstrator.
"But that is a cover for making contacts with (student) leaders to offer them training and financing to create youth groups that generate violence," he told reporters.
The US State Department called the allegations "baseless and false," adding that Washington supported free expression and peaceful assembly in Venezuela and around the world.
Venezuela has routinely expelled US diplomats in recent years as the relationship between the two countries frayed during the 14-year rule of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.
Maduro ousted three diplomats in October on charges of stirring up labour protests, and also expelled two earlier in 2013 on the day Chavez died of cancer.
Critics dismiss such moves as theatrics used in times of national commotion to distract from more serious issues.