Venezuela's opposition-led congress seeks support in Paris

PARIS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition-led congress leaders met on Monday with French President Emmanuel Macron to press for humanitarian aid to their crisis-hit nation, on the first leg of a European tour seeking support against President Nicolas Maduro.

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Maduro’s government has been criticised by the United Nations, Washington and other governments for failing to allow the entry of foreign aid to ease a severe economic crisis, while it overrides Venezuela’s opposition-led congress and jails hundreds of opponents.

“I stressed the urgency of opening up the door to humanitarian aid in Venezuela,” congress President Julio Borges said, adding that Macron had been eager to help.

“We want the government of Maduro to open the door to this humanitarian help,” Borges said.

The opposition won control of congress in 2015. But Maduro’s loyalist Supreme Court has tossed out every major law it has passed as the oil-rich country slips deeper into a recession exacerbated by triple-digit inflation and acute shortages of food and medicines.

Maduro has said he is facing an “armed insurrection” designed to end socialism in Latin America and let a U.S.-backed business elite get its hands on the OPEC nation’s massive crude reserves.

In Caracas on Monday, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza summoned ambassadors from Spain, Germany Italy, and the United Kingdom to issue a note of protest accusing them of meddling in Venezuela’s internal affairs.

There has been widespread criticism of Maduro around Europe, with Macron last week saying his administration was “a dictatorship trying to survive at the cost of unprecedented humanitarian distress.”

Macron, who did not speak to reporters after the meeting, last week also criticised the government after human rights activist Lilian Tintori, the wife of Venezuela’s best-known detained political leader, was barred from flying out of the country to go to Paris, Madrid, Berlin and London.

“They cannot silence the voice of 30 million Venezuelans,” Tintori said on her Twitter account, adding that Congress Vice President Freddy Guevara had given Macron a letter from her.

Arreaza said Tintori was not able to leave the country because she was due in court this week to answer questions over a stash of cash that police had found in her car.

When she intended to leave on Saturday, several European ambassadors accompanied her to the airport.

The situation in Venezuela has a particular resonance in France, where the far-left France Unbowed party, currently Macron’s most vocal opponent, backs Maduro.

Maduro is expected to address the opening day of a three-week U.N. Human Rights Council session on Sept. 11.

Reporting by Ingrid Melander, Jean-Baptiste Vey and Marine Pennetier; Additional reporting by Diego Ore and Girish Gupta; Editing by Ralph Boultoh and Tom Brown