In Mexico, Obama criticizes Venezuelan government

TOLUCA, Mexico Wed Feb 19, 2014 9:00pm EST

U.S. President Barack Obama joins Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (unseen) and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (unseen) for a news conference in the Patio Central at the El Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Mexico to end the North American Leaders Summit in Toluca, Mexico, February 19, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. President Barack Obama joins Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (unseen) and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (unseen) for a news conference in the Patio Central at the El Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Mexico to end the North American Leaders Summit in Toluca, Mexico, February 19, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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TOLUCA, Mexico (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday sharply criticized the Venezuelan government for arresting protesters and urged the government to focus on the "legitimate grievances" of its people.

At a news conference concluding a North American summit, Obama did not mince words in reacting to Venezuela's expulsion this week of three U.S. diplomats accused of recruiting students to lead protests in Caracas.

Instead of "making up false accusations" against U.S. diplomats, the Venezuelan government should focus on the "legitimate grievances of the Venezuelan government," Obama said.

He called on the Caracas government to release protesters it had detained and engage in a real dialogue. "All parties have an obligation to work together," he said.

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal in Toluca, and Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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