BOGOTA (Reuters) - A regional bloc comprised mostly of Latin American nations said on Friday it rejects plans by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to hold legislative elections without participation by all political parties.
“We express our firm rejection of the illegitimate regime’s announcement of the celebration of parliamentary elections without the minimum guarantees and without the participation of all political forces,” said the declaration co-signed by Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru.
The Lima Group, which includes countries from across Latin America and the Caribbean as well as Canada, has long called for a transition government and free elections in Venezuela.
The group - together with the United States and European nations - accuses Maduro of manipulating Venezuela’s 2018 presidential contest and refuses to recognize the results. Maduro, in power since 2013 in the OPEC member nation, says he won reelection fairly.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido is recognized by dozens of countries as the legitimate leader of his country. His administration also signed on to the statement.
Colombian President Ivan Duque said earlier on Friday the December contest for the national assembly are a bid by Maduro to seize control of the body, the last bastion of opposition power.
“We cannot support, validate, applaud or recognize this process, which we already know is a fraudulent process meant to continue to silence independent voices,” said Duque, who opened the group’s virtual meeting.
Argentina confirmed its deputy foreign minister participated in the meeting, but said it did not agree with the position of some Venezuelan political parties who have said they will boycott the elections, saying every citizen needed representation in “free, fair and impartial” polls.
In another statement, European Union countries, the United States and some group members said relief from sanctions could be provided if there was progress towards a transitional government and free elections.
Britain on Friday called on Venezuela to establish a transitional government and swiftly hold free presidential elections, due to the impact of COVID-19.
Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb, additional reporting by Maximillian Heath in Buenos Aires, Editing by Cynthia Osterman
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