Venezuela's Guaido urges more sanctions after German envoy's expulsion

BERLIN (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido urged Europe to tighten financial sanctions against the government of Nicolas Maduro after it expelled Germany’s ambassador.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognized as the country's rightful interim ruler, speaks during a session of Venezuela's National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

His comments to a German magazine marked the latest flashpoint in a global showdown over Venezuela, with Western nations largely recognizing Guaido’s claim to be considered the country’s legitimate head of state.

Russia and China, meanwhile, continue to support Socialist Maduro and urge no outside interference.

Caracas declaring ambassador Daniel Kriener persona non grata “represents a threat against Germany,” Guaido was quoted on Thursday as telling Der Spiegel. Kriener and other diplomats had welcomed Guaido home at Caracas airport this week.

“I hope that Europe reacts sharply to this serious threat against an ambassador,” Guaido said. “Above all, they should tighten financial sanctions against the regime.”

Germany is among the many nations backing Guaido’s plan to install a transitional government ahead of national elections.

He denounces Maduro as a usurper whose re-election last year resulted from a sham vote. Maduro says he is victim of a U.S.-led coup attempt and an “economic war”.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Wednesday called Venezuela’s action “incomprehensible” and said Germany and its European partners would continue to back Guaido.

On Thursday, he said the ambassador would return to Germany on Saturday for consultations, but that Berlin’s position would not change.

Guaido, however, said he had asked Kriener to stay on as ambassador in Caracas, since Maduro was not empowered to expel a diplomat as he was “occupying the post of president illegally.”

The international community should act to prevent Maduro using Venezuelan taxpayer funds to “kill critics of the regime and indigenous peoples, as is already happening at the border to Brazil,” he said in reference to recent violence there.

Juergen Hardt, foreign policy spokesman for the conservative bloc in Germany’s parliament, backed Guaido’s call for further sanctions against Maduro and said the goal should be for Kriener to return to Caracas as soon as possible.

Maas did not address the sanctions issue.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Thomas Seythal; Editing by Tassilo Hummel and John Stonestreet