Venezuelan leader slams new US sanctions

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President Nicolas Maduro holds up a copy of the country’s constitution as he speaks during a national TV broadcast in Caracas on 9 March 2015 President Nicolas Maduro has slammed the US after the latest sanctions it imposed on Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has called the latest US sanctions “the most aggressive, unjust and harmful step that has ever been taken by the US against Venezuela”.

In a televised address, Mr Maduro named one of seven officials sanctioned by the US as his new interior minister.

He also announced he would seek special powers from the National Assembly “to defend the integrity of the country”.

Tensions between the two countries have been rising for months.

On Monday, US President Barack Obama issued an executive order freezing the assets of seven Venezuelan officials and banning them from entering the United States.

A man sits next to graffiti which reads “imperialism” and “traitor”, in Caracas on 9 March, 2015. Venezuelan officials accuse the US of trying to topple the government in Caracas

Mr Obama also said the situation in Venezuela, including “the government’s erosion of human rights guarantees (…) constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”.

He declared a “national emergency to deal with the threat”.

In response, President Maduro accused Mr Obama of “personally taking on the task of defeating my government, intervening in Venezuela, in order to control it from the US”.

He also said he would ask the National Assembly on Tuesday to grant him special powers to “fight imperialism”.

Mr Maduro did not specify what powers exactly he would ask for, except to say he would propose a “special enabling law to defend peace”.

The president’s party has a majority in the National Assembly and members have in the past granted him powers to govern by decree, which expired in November 2014.

‘US interference’

Opposition politicians warned that the move would be used to suppress dissent.

General Gustavo Gonzalez during a national TV broadcast in Caracas on 9 March 2015 Mr Maduro named Gen Gonzalez as new interior minister

A number of prominent opposition leaders are in jail, charged with inciting violence during mass protests that swept through the country last year.

They say Mr Maduro is trying to divert attention from Venezuela’s economic crisis amid falling oil prices.

The country is experiencing a shortage of many staple goods and the annual inflation rate is running at more than 60%, according to official figures.

Moreover, polls suggested Mr Maduro’s approval rating had dropped to 22% in January.

Mr Maduro accuses the opposition of trying to topple his government with US backing – which both the US and opposition have denied.

The Venezuelan leader also named as new interior minister one of the seven Venezuelan officials whose assets were frozen by the US on Monday.

Mr Maduro referred to the sanctions imposed on Gen Gustavo Gonzalez ironically as a “decoration from the American Empire”.

As well as Mr Gonzalez, the officials sanctioned by the US include the director of the national police force, the former director of the National Guard and other members of the security forces whom the US accuses of human rights abuses.

Venezuela in turn recalled its charge d’affaires from Washington DC “for consultations”.

The two countries have not exchanged ambassadors in more than six years.

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