Venezuela denies EU lawmakers entry given 'conspiratorial motives'

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela Minister of Foreign Affairs Jorge Arreaza responds to questions in the press briefing room at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, U.S. February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela denied a group of European Parliament deputies entry into the country on Sunday, arguing they had “conspiratorial motives” for flying to Caracas in the throes of a political crisis.

The European Parliament last month joined a slew of Western nations in recognizing Venezuelan opposition chief Juan Guaido as interim head of state after President Nicolas Maduro won a second term in an election last year that critics denounced as a sham.

The four deputies from the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) were traveling to Venezuela to meet with Guaido, one of them said in a video distributed via social media.

“They have retained our passports, they haven’t communicated the reason for our expulsion,” Esteban González Pons said.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said on his Twitter account that the lawmakers had been advised several days ago they would not be allowed entry into the South American country.

Venezuela would “not permit the European extreme right to disturb the peace and stability of the country with another of its rude, interventionist actions,” he wrote.

There is growing pressure on Maduro at home and abroad to step down so that Guaido can head an interim government to organize free elections. Maduro, who retains the backing of Russia and China, says he is the victim of a coup.

Reporting by Mayela Armas; Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Sandra Maler