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Latin American leaders recall ambassadors to Venezuela over vote

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was re-elected as president on Sunday in an election marred by controversy.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

A bloc of countries from the Americas opposing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has said that all its 14 members will recall their ambassadors to the country to protest against what it said was the country's failure to hold a "free and fair" election.

In a statement issued on Monday, the Lima Group said the members' diplomats in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, would return to their respective countries for consultations.

The bloc consists of Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia.

Members have also summoned Venezuelan ambassadors and agreed to dampen diplomatic relations with Maduro's government, the statement said.

US President Donald Trump also took action on Monday, signing an executive order restricting Maduro's government from selling off, or borrowing against, public assets. 

"We call for the Maduro regime to restore democracy, hold free and fair elections, release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally, and end the repression and economic deprivation of the Venezuelan people," Trump said in a statement.

'We are the force of history'

Maduro was re-elected as Venezuela's president on Sunday in an election marred by low turnout, a boycott by the main opposition and allegations from rival candidates of several voting irregularities.

The 55-year-old won 5.8m votes in Sunday's election, 4m more than second-placed Henri Falcon, an independent candidate.

Turnout for the single-round vote was about 46 percent, according to Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE), significantly lower than the 80 percent recorded during the country's last presidential election in 2013.

About 20 million people had been eligible to participate in the ballot.

Maduro hailed his win as a victory against "imperialism", accused rivals of "underestimating" him and said a presidential candidate had "never before ... taken 68 percent of the popular vote".

"We are the force of history turned into a permanent popular victory," he said on Sunday evening in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, following the announcement of results.

'Voting irregularities'

But Falcon called for a new vote, alleging the election was illegitimate.

"We do not recognise this electoral process as valid," he told local media. "There must be new elections in Venezuela."

Claudio Fermin, Falcon's campaign chief, said his team documented more than 900 cases of voting irregularities, including the widespread placement of pro-government stands outside polling stations.

Venezuela's main opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), boycotted the election, while Maduro's two most popular rivals, Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo Lopez, were barred from running.

The country's opposition has appeared deeply divided in recent months, with fractures highlighted by members of the MUD accepting the results of regional elections in October last year, resulting in Capriles breaking away from the coalition.

Many MUD supporters viewed the swearing in of four coalition politicians as state governors within the Constituent Assembly as being contrary to their denial of the body's legitimacy.

'Deepening political crisis'

Sunday's vote came against the backdrop of a political and financial crisis, with more than 100 people killed in protests throughout 2017 amid growing discontent over biting hyperinflation and shortages in food and medicine supplies.

In its statement, the Lima Group said Venezuela's electoral process had not complied with "international standards" and expressed concern over the "deepening political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis" unfolding in the country.

"[This crisis] is reflected in the massive migration of Venezuelans who arrive in our countries in difficult conditions and in the loss of democratic institutions, the rule of law and the lack of guarantees and political freedoms of citizens," the group's statement said.

The number of Venezuelan nationals abroad increased from almost 700,000 to more than 1.6 million between 2015-2017, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The Lima Group, which was formed in August 2017 to address the Venezuela crisis, will convene for a high-level meeting next month in Peru to address the migration issue.

'Sham election'

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State MIke Pompeo said the "sham elections" had changed nothing in a post on Twitter on Sunday.

A senior US official told The Associated Press on Sunday that Trump's administration was considering imposing crippling oil sanctions on Venezuela, potentially adding to the sweeping sanctions already imposed on the country by Washington.

Oil revenues account for about 95 percent of Venezuela's export earnings, according to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). 

Maduro has accused the US and its allies of waging "economic war" on Venezuela, saying the measures imposed by Washington were an attempt to force Venezuela to default on its debt.

The country's GDP has dropped by 45 percent since Maduro took office, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).


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