August 11, 2017 / 9:07 PM / 9 days ago

Peru expels Venezuelan ambassador to protest constituent assembly

FILE PHOTO: Nicolas Maduro stands next to then Defense Minister Diego Molero (L) as he speaks to thousands of supporters of Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez as they wait to view his body in state at the Military Academy in Caracas March 7, 2013.Jorge Silva

LIMA (Reuters) - Peru said on Friday it was expelling Venezuela's ambassador to Peru to protest the country's recent formation of an all-powerful constituent assembly that has been widely condemned as a power grab by socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuela responded by ordering the charge d'affaires at the Peruvian embassy in Caracas to leave the country within five days. Peru withdrew its ambassador to Venezuela in March.

Peru's announcement on Friday, shortly after President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski called Maduro a "dictator", marked the first time that a country has moved to expel a Venezuelan ambassador since the country's July 30 vote to form the constituent assembly amid allegations of fraud.

In Latin America, Peru has taken the toughest stance toward Maduro as he seeks to consolidate power and crack down on anti-government protests and unrest that have left 120 dead since April.

Police guard as press stand outside the Venezuela's embassy in Lima, Peru, August 11, 2017Mariana Bazo

Earlier this week, Peru summoned top diplomats from the region to discuss Venezuela in Lima, Peru's capital, where 12 nations condemned the "rupture of democratic order" in Venezuela and said they would not recognize any action taken by the constituent assembly.

Maduro has said the constituent assembly is the country's only chance at securing peace and prosperity.

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Venezuela called Kuczynski, a former Wall Street banker, "an enemy of the country, for continually interfering in the domestic affairs of Venezuela."

"The Venezuelan government will continue to deepen relations with the heroic Peruvian people despite the actions of the elite that governs Peru," Venezuela's foreign ministry said in a statement. It added that its ambassador to Peru, Diego Molero, was in Venezuela.

The escalating rhetoric came as U.S. President Donald Trump threatened military intervention in Venezuela, which Venezuela called "an act of craziness."

Reporting by Mitra Taj; Editing by Andrew Hay and Leslie Adler

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