The Latest: Germany backs Venezuelan opposition

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – The Latest on the political crisis in Venezuela (all times local):

8:50 a.m.

The German government is backing the opposition-led National Assembly in Venezuela, while calling for “free and credible elections” in the country.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Thursday on Twitter that “the people of Venezuela are bravely working for a free future for their country.”

Seibert said “this now requires a political process that results in free and credible elections.”

He added that “the democratically elected National Assembly should have a special role here.”

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8:20 a.m.

The U.N. chief has called for dialogue and says violence or escalation should be avoided after the United States, many Latin American countries and others recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s president.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was asked to comment about Venezuela at the World Economic Forum after many of its closest neighbors issued the rebuff to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro a day earlier.

Guterres said simply: “It is absolutely essential to have dialogue, to avoid violence and to avoid escalation.” He did not elaborate.

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7:50 a.m.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is holding talks on Venezuela with Latin American leaders in the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Sanchez’s office also said the leader has scheduled a phone call with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, a long-time socialist, says Nicolas Maduro’s government is illegitimate but declined to follow other world leaders in endorsing Guaido.

“We don’t know how, but we are going to procure free and fair elections in Venezuela,” Borrell has told reporters on Thursday.

Spain was among European countries that until earlier this week was promoting an international mediation between Maduro’s administration and the opposition. But Borrell says now that “the situation has changed radically.”

He also said the government’s top priority was to ensure the safety of more than 200,000 Spaniards living in Venezuela.

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7:30 a.m.

French President Emmanuel Macron says that the May 2018 election of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro was “illegitimate” and saluted the bravery of Venezuelans who are demanding freedom.

In a tweet on Thursday in French and Spanish, Macron added his own voice to the European Union’s declared support for the restoration of democracy.

Macron said that he “salutes the courage of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans marching for their liberty.”

The EU 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.

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7:20 a.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey opposes coup attempts wherever they may occur.

Erdogan, who did not directly reference Venezuela, made the comments at a military academy Thursday hours after he spoke with Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro.

Earlier, Erdogan’s spokesman said that the Turkish leader told Maduro in a phone call: “My brother Maduro! Stay strong, we are by your side.”

Erdogan said: “As a country that believes in democracy, as a president who believes in democracy … where ever in the world there is a coup attempt, we stand against them all without distinction.”

He added: “Everyone has to respect the result of the ballot boxes.”

Erdogan, whom critics accuse of increasingly autocratic tendencies, survived a coup attempt in 2016.

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7:10 a.m.

Ecuador’s foreign minister says his country opposes possible military action in Venezuela against President Nicolas Maduro’s government, insisting it would have “mostly negative impacts.”

Ecuador has joined many fellow Latin American countries, the United States and others that have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s president in the face of Venezuela’s political and economic crisis under Maduro.

Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Jose Valencia told a panel session at the World Economic Forum in Davos that Ecuador would disagree with the military option.

Valencia was asked to comment Thursday after U.S. President Donald Trump said “options are on the table” a day earlier in response to a question whether the U.S. was contemplating military action in Venezuela.

Valencia said: “I wouldn’t think that it would be a way out of the situation. You have to give the Venezuelan people the opportunity to decide by themselves.”

Ecuador said in October it has granted visas to 90,000 Venezuelans fleeing their country.

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7 a.m.

Syria has condemned what it describes as “flagrant intervention” by the U.S. in Venezuela’s internal affairs.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that the American backing of the opposition’s claim to the presidency in Venezuela constitutes a “violation of international laws and norms.”

The ministry says Damascus renews its “full solidarity with the leadership and people of the Venezuelan Republic in preserving the country’s sovereignty and foiling the American administration’s hostile plans.”

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is a strong ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Maduro visited Syria as foreign minister in 2011, months after the Arab country’s conflict began. Assad visited Venezuela in 2010.

A large Syrian community lives in Venezuela.

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6:50 a.m.

The Kremlin has dismissed the political crisis in Venezuela as an attempted coup and expressed concern over suggestions of possible foreign military intervention.

Russia is a key ally of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, who was sworn in for his second term in office earlier this month. Maduro’s rival Juan Gauido on Wednesday declared himself interim president before masses of demonstrators in Caracas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday dismissed Gauido’s announcement an “attempt to usurp power” which violates international law. He also said the Kremlin was concerned about statements “from foreign nations” ”which do not rule out foreign intervention.”

Asked if Russia would be willing to grant asylum to Maduro, Peskov said that Maduro is the legitimate leader.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry in a statement issued earlier on Thursday said that the crisis in Venezuela “has reached a dangerous point” and called on the international community to mediate between the government and the opposition.

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6:45 a.m.

Portugal’s foreign minister is calling for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to “understand that his time has come to an end,” after opposition leader Juan Guaido claimed the country’s presidency.

Augusto Santos Silva told the Portuguese news agency LUSA, in comments published by daily Observador, that Maduro “cannot ignore the will of the people.”

Portugal has previously taken a careful approach to events in Venezuela, wary of doing anything that might cause problems for the large Portuguese community there.

Santos Silva appealed for a peaceful end to the standoff and called for free elections.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

A woman holds up a Venezuelan flag as she gathers with other anti-government Venezuelan protesters at Democracy Square in Asuncion, Paraguay, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Venezuelan migrants held a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and in favor of Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela’s opposition-run congress who today declared himself interim president of the South American nation. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
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