Venezuela's auditor general strips Guaido of public office

File photos of Juan Guaido and Nicolas Maduro. Photograph:( Reuters )

AFP Venezuela Mar 28, 2019, 11.23 PM (IST)

Venezuela's auditor general's office announced on Thursday that it has stripped opposition leader Juan Guaido, congressional speaker, of the right to hold public office for 15 years.

The move, announced by Auditor General Elvis Amoroso on state television, marked another effort by President Nicolas Maduro's regime to politically sideline Guaido, who is recognized by the US and 50 other countries as Venezuela's interim president.

The move comes as  US and Russia clashed publicly over Venezuela on Monday, raising geopolitical stakes over the oil-producing nation after Moscow sent dozens of soldiers to Caracas amid what it alleged was a budding "coup."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned his counterpart Sergei Lavrov over the phone that "the United States and regional countries will not stand idly by as Russia exacerbates tensions in Venezuela."

Although Russian state news agency Sputnik described the troop arrival as a movement to "fulfill technical military contracts," the development unsettled Washington, which has thrown its weight behind opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president against President Nicolas Maduro.

Lavrov said in a statement he had complained of "attempts by Washington to organize a coup d'etat in Venezuela" during his conversation with Pompeo.

President Nicolas Maduro had accused the United States of using frozen Venezuelan funds to bankroll mercenaries to assassinate him in a "plot" he said was directed by opposition leader Juan Guaido.

"We have dismantled a plan organized personally by the diabolical puppet to kill me," Maduro told thousands of supporters in Caracas, referring to Guaido, who is recognized as interim president by more than 50 countries.

He alleged that Colombia, Venezuela's US-aligned neighbor, was also involved, and said that an unidentified Colombian paramilitary chief had been captured in the country "and is giving testimony."

Maduro's government gave details of the alleged plot on state television, with Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez saying "hitmen" from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras had been recruited "using big sums of money" and sent to Colombia ahead of missions into Venezuela to carry out "targeted assassinations" and "sabotage."

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Lavrov said in a statement he had complained of "attempts by Washington to organize a coup d'etat in Venezuela" during his conversation with Pompeo.