Venezuela frees journalists for French, Spanish media

CARACAS/MADRID (Reuters) - Venezuela freed on Thursday two French, two Colombian and one Spanish journalist detained in recent days while covering the political turmoil engulfing President Nicolas Maduro.

The socialist government has long had a spiky relationship with Western media, which it largely considers hostile and in league with “imperialist” interests.

Short detentions and deportations have become common, especially as reporters facing lengthy bureaucracy for official permissions seek shortcuts to report in Venezuela.

French TV show Quotidien, which is part of the TF1 network, said its journalists Baptiste des Monstiers and Pierre Caille were released and heading back to Paris.

Spain’s government confirmed that three detained journalists working for EFE news agency - Colombian photographer Leonardo Muñoz, Spanish reporter Gonzalo Domínguez Loeda and Colombian TV producer Mauren Barriga Vargas - had also been freed.

A Venezuelan driver with the EFE team was also released.

Maduro, the 56-year-old successor to Hugo Chavez, is facing the biggest challenge of his rule since opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president and received the backing of numerous nations including the United States.

The journalists’ arrests had brought diplomatic protests.

“We firmly believe that all journalists should be able to exercise their duties, responsibilities and rights in their work,” European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters in Bucharest.

There was no immediate confirmation from Venezuelan officials.

Reporting by Caracas Bureau; John Irish and Elizabeth Pineau in Paris; Jose Elias Rodriguez and Joan Faus in Madrid; Robin Emmott in Brussels; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne