Peru's president urges Venezuela's Maduro to step down

LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski on Friday urged Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro to step down, calling him a “dictator”, and rejected the socialist leader’s call for the two to meet face-to-face along with other presidents in the region.

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The centrist leader said in an interview for Reuters Latin American Investment Summit that Maduro had lost any remaining credibility since forming the constituent assembly, an all-powerful body made up of Maduro’s Socialist Party loyalists.

“He’s a dictator and has carried out a coup through a fraudulent election to eliminate Congress,” Kuczynski said in the presidential palace in the historical center of Lima.

The comment marked the fiercest criticism yet that Kuczynski, an Oxford and Princeton trained economist and public administrator, has lobbed at Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader narrowly elected to replace Hugo Chavez in 2013.

On Kuczynski’s watch, Peru has led Latin American efforts to pressure Venezuela to enact democratic reforms and signal to the world that much of the region is troubled by its deepening political and economic crises.

Maduro, who has previously called Kuczynski a “dog” and “coward” servile to the United States, on Thursday challenged the “American President of Peru” to agree to meet in person to discuss Venezuela with other leaders in the region.

“I’m not going to meet with Mr. Maduro. Sorry,” Kuczynski said.

When asked what message he would send Maduro, Kuczynski said: “Leave!”

Shortly after Kuczynski spoke on Friday, Peru’s foreign affairs minister announced that Peru was expelling Venezuela’s ambassador to Peru to protest the constituent assembly.

Maduro has said the constituent assembly is the country’s only chance at securing peace after four months of unrest and anti-government protests that have left more than 120 people dead.

Kuczynski said his primary concern with Venezuela was the regional fallout as thousands of Venezuelans flee the country’s grinding poverty and hyperinflation every day and seek refuge in neighboring countries.

“We’ve opened the door to them,” Kuczynski said. Peru recently extended a temporary work visa for Venezuelans.

“The only thing I can say is that there are a lot of people who are having a hard time in Venezuela ... and that will end one way or another,” Kuczynski said.

Reporting By Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino; Editing by Toni Reinhold