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US to withdraw all embassy personnel from Venezuela

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blamed Cuba and Russia for stifling democracy in Venezula.

Reuters, Washington :
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said late Monday that the United States will withdraw all remaining diplomatic personnel from its embassy in Caracas as the crisis in Venezuela deepens. He said the staff would leave by the end of the week.  The move worsens already frayed relations between the two nations. President Donald Trump has said that he doesn't rule out any options including military intervention to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
The US has already imposed sanctions designed to choke off Venezuelan oil sales, which are the lifeblood of the leftist government in Caracas.
Much of Venezuela has been without electricity going on five days now due to a power outage that the government blames on what it calls sabotage encouraged by the US.
Venezuela is in the grips of an acute economic crisis that has helped the rise of opposition leader Juan Guaido, the national assembly speaker who in late January declared himself to be the interim leader. More than 50 countries, led by the US have endorsed him as President.
"This decision reflects the deteriorating situation in Venezuela as well as the conclusion that the presence of US diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on US policy," Pompeo wrote on Twitter.
On January 24 the State Department ordered all non-emergency government employees to depart Venezuela and urged Americans living in the country to consider leaving.
Pompeo took aim earlier on Monday at Cuba and Russia for their continued support of Maduro.
He rejected Maduro's assertion that the US was responsible for the power blackout and instead pointed the finger at the socialist nature of the Venezuelan government. "Nicolas Maduro promised Venezuelans a better life and a socialist paradise. He delivered on the socialism part, which has proved, time and time again, is a recipe for economic ruin,".
Pompeo told journalists. "The paradise part? Not so much."
Pompeo took aim at the "central role Cuba and Russia have played and continue to play in undermining the democratic dreams of the Venezuelan people and their welfare."
"Cuba is the true imperialist power in Venezuela," Pompeo said.
Meanwhile, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Monday called for a new mass demonstration.
In a speech to the National Assembly which he leads, Guaido said "at three o'clock in the afternoon, all of Venezuela will be on the streets" to protest against Maduro .... and .. those around him."
(Reuters) - The United States will withdraw all remaining diplomatic personnel from Venezuela this week, the U.S. State Department said late on Monday, citing the deteriorating situation in the country after months of political unrest.
It followed Washington's Jan. 24 decision to withdraw all dependents and reduce embassy staff to a minimum in the South American country hit by unrest over a contested presidential election.
"This decision reflects the deteriorating situation in Venezuela as well as the conclusion that the presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy," the State Department said in a statement.
It did not give more details or set a day for when personnel would be withdrawn from the embassy in Caracas.
Venezuela's congress on Monday declared a "state of alarm" over a five-day power blackout that has crippled the OPEC nation's oil exports and left millions of citizens scrambling to find food and water.
Venezuela also suspended school and business activities on Tuesday due to the power blackout, Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said in a televised broadcast on Monday, the third such cancellation since power went out last week.
The outage has added to discontent in a country already suffering from hyperinflation and a political crisis after opposition leader Juan Guaido assumed the interim presidency in January after declaring President Nicolas Maduro's 2018 re-election a fraud.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday blamed Russia and Cuba for causing Venezuela's political crisis by supporting President Nicolas Maduro and said he had urged India not to help Maduro's government by buying Venezuelan oil.
His comments came after the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Russian bank Evrofinance Mosnarbank for helping Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA evade U.S. financial restrictions.
"This story is not complete without acknowledging the central role Cuba and Russia have played and continue to play in undermining the democratic dreams of the Venezuelan people and their welfare," Pompeo told reporters.
"Moscow, like Havana, continues to provide political cover to the Maduro regime, while pressuring countries to disregard the democratic legitimacy of the interim president Guaido," he added.
President Donald Trump's administration has taken steps to ratchet up pressure on Maduro and bolster Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by the United States and more than 50 other countries as interim president.
However, Maduro, who has accused Guaido of a U.S.-directed coup attempt, retains the backing of Russia and China as well as control of state institutions including the military.
Pompeo met with India's Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale on Monday and they discussed India's purchases of oil from Maduro's government.
"We are asking the same thing of India as we are of every country: do not be the economic lifeline for the Maduro regime," Pompeo said.
"I am very confident in the same way that India has been incredibly supportive of our efforts on Iran, I am confident that they too understand the real threat to the Venezuelan people," he added.
The Indian market is crucial for Venezuela's economy. It has historically been the second-largest cash-paying customer for the OPEC country's crude after the U.S., which through sanctions against Maduro has handed control of much of the revenue to Guaido.
Pompeo said Russian oil giant Rosneft was also defying U.S. sanctions by buying oil from PDVSA, which was sanctioned in January.
"Russia's state-owned company, Rosneft, continues to purchase crude oil cargoes from PDVSA, Venezuela's state-owned oil company, in defiance of U.S. sanctions. And, Rosneft's CEO, Igor Sechin, continues to throw a lifeline to the regime," he said.
Rosneft, which is involved in upstream projects in Venezuela and is receiving oil from PDVSA under pre-payment deals from past years, called Pompeo's statements "groundless accusations".
"Rosneft is not involved in the politics and is conducting purely commercial activities," it said on Tuesday.
"Rosneft activities in Venezuela... and oil supplies are conducted according to the international laws and existing... contracts."
Rosneft said any contracts were secured before the latest U.S. sanctions were imposed in January and it might seek legal action to defend itself if necessary.
The U.S. sanctions, aimed at forcing out Maduro, bar U.S. oil dollars from flowing to Venezuela.
However, the sanctions were later clarified, allowing U.S. persons to purchase and engage in swaps and non-cash deals for petroleum and petroleum products with PDVSA until April 28 in a move aimed at easing flows and averting a fuel crisis.
According to lawyers and traders, Rosneft can continue its oil and oil product operations with PDVSA at least until April 28.

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