Americas

Venezuela denies visa extension for electoral observers-source

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A woman holds a Venezuelan flag while participating in a candlelight vigil held for victims of recent violence in Caracas, Venezuela May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

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CARACAS, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Venezuela has denied visa extensions for electoral observers from the European Union, requiring them to leave the South American country this weekend, a source with knowledge of the matter said.

The observers arrived in October for regional and local elections that took place on Nov. 21. Members of the delegation's leadership had said they would remain until Dec. 13.

"There was not an extension of the stay so they must leave this weekend," said the source, who declined to be identified because they are not authorized to speak on the record.

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The source did not specify why the visas were not extended.

President Nicolas Maduro has called the observers "spies" and said their preliminary report - which said voting conditions were better than in previous contests but that some candidates were blocked unfairly - is an effort to stain a peaceful and democratic electoral process.

The Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The mission's only official spokesperson is its head, Isabel Santos, who left Venezuela at the end of November. The mission declined to comment on members' visas.

"The proclamation of the (winning) candidates has been carried out and now the members of the observation mission will leave Caracas on Dec. 5," the mission said in a statement on Friday, adding it will return to the country at the beginning of 2022 to present its final report.

The electoral authority and the foreign ministry also did not respond to requests for comment.

The elections were a sweeping victory for the ruling Socialist party, which picked up 19 governorships, while opposition politicians claimed three.

The only race still to be decided is the governorship of Barinas state, a Socialist party stronghold.

The Supreme Court of Justice this week ordered a new vote because of a close race and disqualified opposition candidate Freddy Superlano. Incumbent Argenis Chavez has resigned as governor and said he will not seek re-election.

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Reporting by Vivian Sequera; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Dan Grebler

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