Venezuela crisis: Opposition leader Juan Guaido hit with travel ban and asset freeze by supreme court

Move comes a day after US imposes sanctions on state oil company

Jon Sharman
Wednesday 30 January 2019 10:50 GMT
US national security advisor John Bolton announces Venezuela sanctions

Venezuela’s self-declared interim president, Juan Guaido, has been hit with a travel ban after the country’s chief prosecutor announced he would launch a criminal investigation into the congressional leader.

The supreme court – stacked with members loyal to president Nicolas Maduro – blocked Mr Guaido from leaving the counrty and froze his bank accounts, but did not strip him of his legislative immunity.

It came as Mr Guaido called on Venezuelans to stage a two-hour walkout from their homes and workplaces in protest at Mr Maduro’s stewardship of the country.

The incumbent president has said he will not stand down and told Russia’s state-owned news agency RIA Novosti he was open to negotiations alongside mediators.

“I’m willing to sit down for talks with the opposition so that we could talk for the sake of Venezuela’s peace and its future,” he said.

Russia is a key ally, backing the Maduro government with loans and weapons.

Mr Maduro has accused the US of instigating a coup against him after Donald Trump recognised Mr Guaido as the legitimate interim leader, prompting a string of other countries including Britain to follow suit.

On Tuesday Washington announced fresh sanctions on Venezuela, targeting its state-run oil company PDVSA.

Mr Maduro called the sanctions “criminal” and vowed to challenge the US in court. “With these measures, they intend to rob us,” he said.

Violent street demonstrations erupted last week after Mr Guaido, during a huge opposition rally in Caracas, declared he had assumed presidential powers under the constitution and planned to hold fresh elections to end Mr Maduro’s “dictatorship”.

Under Venezuela’s constitution, the head of the national assembly can take on the chief executive’s duties in a range of circumstances in which the presidency is vacated. The opposition argues Mr Maduro’s re-election last May was unfair.

The 35-year-old Mr Guaido has re-invigorated the opposition movement by pushing for three immediate goals: to end Maduro’s “usurpation” of power; establish a transitional government; and hold a new presidential election.

The UN human rights office believes security forces detained nearly 700 people in just one day of anti-government protests last week – the highest such tally in a single day in the country in at least 20 years. It says more than 40 people are believed to have been killed.

Mr Maduro’s allies blame the opposition for the violence and deny the high death toll as well as reports that children were among those arrested.

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Socialist party leaders have been organising counter-protests by thousands of Maduro supporters in different parts of the country.

On Tuesday, Mr Maduro announced he would expand Venezuela’s civilian armed militia to two million members.

The reserve force was created by the late Hugo Chavez to train civilians to assist the armed forces and defend the socialist revolution from attacks.

Additional reporting by AP

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