France, U.K. Recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuela Interim President

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K., Germany and France led a host of European countries in recognizing Venezuelan National Assembly leader Juan Guaido as the country’s interim president on Monday, joining an international push led by the U.S. censuring Nicolas Maduro and calling for new elections.

Spain, Austria, the Netherlands and Poland also said this week they would support Guaido. Several of these nations said on Jan. 26 that they would recognize Guaido in the event Maduro refused to call elections within eight days. The European Union failed to jointly support the head of the National Assembly when countries including Italy vetoed a push to make that the position of the whole bloc.

“Juan Guaido is now the person with whom we’re speaking and whom we expect to initiate an election process as quickly as possible,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Tokyo.

The political crisis in oil-rich Venezuela has provoked a worldwide split, with a U.S.-led group of countries that have already recognized Guaido as interim president pitted against nations such as Russia and China that support Maduro.

Criticism of his style of government has become blunter with each passing day in Western economies. Speaking from Ottawa, U.K. Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan, said "Maduro and his socialism are entirely self-discrediting. If anyone believes that his management of the economy is in any way an example of how to go about it, then they need their heads examined."

“Nicolas Maduro has not called Presidential elections within 8 day limit we have set,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a post on Twitter. French President Emmanuel Macron said in a tweet that “Venezuelans have the right to express themselves freely and democratically.” “For this reason, we now consider the President @jguaido as the lawful interim President in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution,” Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz tweeted.

Asked about U.S. threats to weigh in by force, Duncan said “there has been no mention whatsoever of military intervention.”

Last week, the EU’s top diplomat sounded a warning about the outlook for Venezuela amid the political standoff in the country. “I tend to be an optimist; in this case, I do not have particularly positive expectations,” EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters on Friday in Bucharest, as she announced the bloc could consider new sanctions against Maduro.

A joint statement firming EU’s stance on Venezuela was being debated among national government envoys and may be issued later on Monday.

With pressure mounting, Maduro is looking for help wherever he can find it, even in the Vatican. Maduro told Italy’s SkyTg24 news channel that he sent a letter to Pope Francis, calling on him to act as a mediator to avoid an escalation in Venezuela: “I asked the Pope to produce his best effort, his will to help us on the path of dialogue.”

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