Venezuela's Guaido asks Italy's leaders to meet his envoys

ROME (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido has asked Italy’s ruling coalition leaders to meet with representatives as he seeks their explicit backing as interim president alongside almost all other European countries.

Slideshow ( 10 images )

The hard-right League has expressed strong support for Guaido, but coalition partner the 5-Star Movement has not, making Italy the only major European Union nation not to recognize him as Venezuela’s temporary head of state.

In a Feb. 5 letter distributed by League leader and deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini’s office on Wednesday, Guaido asks if he can send a delegation “to illustrate the plan of action to renew democracy in Venezuela” through fair elections.

“The current humanitarian crisis is hitting all Venezuelans, including the more than 100,000 Italians who live in Venezuela,” it said. A 5-Star government source said its leader Luigi Di Maio had received a similar letter.

Salvini’s office said he would meet Guaido’s envoys on Feb. 11. There was no immediate comment from 5-Star.

About 20 European Union nations including Britain, Germany, France and Spain have aligned with the United States in recognizing Guaido’s leadership and pressuring socialist President Nicolas Maduro to call a new election.

Russia and China object to outside interference.

“Maduro is a criminal, Maduro is an outlaw, Maduro is an abusive, fallen and expired president,” Salvini said on Tuesday. “There is an illegal president who is torturing, arresting, starving and massacring (people) and there is a community that has the right to vote freely.”

Alessandro Di Battista, a prominent 5-Star figure, has said overt support for Guaido would be meddling and could open the way for military intervention.

Italy on Monday blocked a joint EU position to recognize Guaido as interim president, diplomatic sources said.

Venezuelans of Italian origin, many arriving in the first half of the 20th century when southern Europe was in economic doldrums from the two World Wars, are a large and influential group in the South American country.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who plays a mainly ceremonial role and usually stays out of day-to-day politics, urged the government to overcome differences and back Guaido.

“We must demonstrate responsibility and clarity with a common line taken by all our EU partners and allies,” Mattarella said at an event in Rome on Monday.

Mainstream center-left and center-right parties have denounced the government for being out of step with Europe.

Reporting by Angelo Amante and Steve Scherer; Writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Crispian Balmer