By Paul Day
MADRID (Reuters) – Major European countries threw their weight behind Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido on Saturday saying they would recognize him as interim president if Nicolas Maduro failed to call elections within eight days.
Britain, Germany, France and Spain all said they would recognize Guaido unless fresh elections were announced.
Venezuela has sunk into turmoil under Maduro with food shortages and daily protests amid an economic and political crisis that has sparked mass emigration and inflation that is seen rising to 10 million percent this year.
Maduro cruised to re-election in May last year amid low turnout and allegations of vote-buying by the government. The domestic opposition, the United States and right leaning Latin American governments declined to recognize the result of the vote.
Guaido proclaimed himself interim president on Wednesday though Maduro, who has led the oil-rich nation since 2013 and has the support of the armed forces, has refused to stand down.
Earlier this week, the United States declared support for Guaido, with Vice President Mike Pence calling Maduro “a dictator with no legitimate claim to power.” Since then, most Latin American nations and Canada have all said they back the 35-year-old opposition leader.
EUROPE JOINS CALL
On Saturday, they were joined by four European Union countries.
“The government of Spain gives [President] Nicolas Maduro eight days to call free, transparent and democratic elections,” Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in statement.
“If that doesn’t happen, Spain will recognize Juan Guaido as interim president in charge of calling these elections.”
French President Manuel Macron sent a tweet echoing Sanchez’s comments almost simultaneously.
“Unless elections are announced within eight days, we will be ready to recognize @jguaido as ‘President in charge’ of Venezuela in order to trigger a political process,” Macron said.
A spokeswoman from the German government tweeted the same message shortly after the comments from Madrid and Paris.
And later British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt made a similar call.
“After banning opposition candidates, ballot box stuffing and counting irregularities in a deeply flawed election it is clear Nicolas Maduro is not the legitimate leader of Venezuela,” Hunt tweeted.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini reiterated Brussels’ call for Venezuela to hold free, transparent and credible presidential elections, adding that failure to do so would prompt further action by the EU.
Russia, meanwhile, called for the United States and Europe to cease interfering in Venezuela.
“The cynical, overt interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state continues. It must stop,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
The United States said on Friday it was ready to step up economic measures to drive Maduro from power.
(Additional reporting by Gus Trompiz in Paris, Andrea Shalal in Berlin and Costas Pitas in London, Foo Yun Chee in Brussels and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Kirsten Donovan, Clelia Oziel, William Maclean)