"David’s sling is in our hands" — Maduro warns Trump

UK recognises Juan Guaido as interim President of Venezuela

More than a dozen European Union countries endorsed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's interim president on Monday, piling the pressure on embattled President Nicolas Maduro to resign and clear the way for a new presidential election.

Juan Guaido, Venezuelan opposition leader and parliament speaker, whose appointment to that position had been cancelled by the country's Supreme Court, declared himself interim president at a rally in the country's capital of Caracas on January 23.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels after a meeting of European Union foreign affairs ministers, top EU diplomat Federica Mogherini said that "the EU and its member states never recognised as legitimate the presidential elections that were held a year ago [in Venezuela]".

"I think we are at a very critical point in the history of Venezuela", said Alan Duncan, Britain's junior foreign minister, among a number of European representatives attending the Lima Group meeting.

It is time for a new start, with free and fair elections in accordance with global democratic standards.

Two opposition rivals with a good chance of winning were barred from standing, while food handouts and other subsidies to hungry Venezuelans were linked with political support.

Maduro is supporting plans for a meeting of Latin American and European Union states in "Contact Group" talks in Montevideo on Thursday.

Italy's 5-Star Movement, which makes up half of the ruling coalition, dissented from the European stance, saying it would never recognise self-appointed leaders.

On January 29, Washington slapped sanctions on the Venezuelan oil producer PDVSA and later transferred control of some of Venezuela's assets in USA banks to Guaido.

"The coward government of Spain has made a bad decision in the history of relations between Spain and Venezuela".

In January, the USA recognised Juan Guaido as the "legitimate" head of the country, handing him control of the country's assets in the US.

"The most important issue now is to get Europe in line and to deepen the isolation of Venezuela and its backers", said a government official in Bogota, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The global split over Venezuela has left the United Nations in a quandary and Guterres' comments suggested that the world body would remain on the sidelines for now.

Maduro, who has overseen an economic collapse and the exodus of millions of Venezuelans, maintains the backing of Russia, China and Turkey, and the critical support of the military.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian appealed for an early presidential election that will ensure "the Venezuelan crisis ends peacefully".

On Monday, Maduro said he had written to Pope Francis, urging him to play a mediating role.

Meanwhile, the opposition was moving ahead with a risky strategy to bring in humanitarian aid from Colombia, hoping to break the all-important military's loyalty to Maduro.

He added: "No, worldwide politics can't be based on ultimatums".

Maduro denies the existence of a humanitarian crisis, calling it a fabrication by Venezuela's enemies to sow instability and justify a military intervention.

The 35-year-old Guaido, head of the country's National Assembly, has breathed new life into a previously fractured and tired opposition.

But David Lipton, the No. 2 at the International Monetary Fund, called Venezuela's economic crisis - marked by widespread food shortages, protracted hyperinflation and the loss of human capital through emigration - an "unprecedented economic storm" that will required generous, broad-based international support to overcome.

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