Anti-government protesters stop a truck while blocking a highway with a small group of demonstrators who were returning from a peaceful demonstration called by self-declared interim president Juan Guaido to demand the resignation of President Nicolas
Anti-government protesters stop a truck while blocking a highway with a small group of demonstrators who were returning from a peaceful demonstration called by self-declared interim president Juan Guaido to demand the resignation of President Nicolas

Canada and the Lima Group of Latin American nations are ruling out the use of force in Venezuela.

The representatives meeting in Ottawa issued a joint statement Monday to "reiterate their support for a process of a peaceful transition through political and diplomatic means without the use of force."

At one point, protesters interrupted the press conference by spreading out a banner reading "Hands Off Venezuela."

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland noted that the demonstrators had the right under the Canadian constitution to make their voices heard.

Leaflets thrown by protesters are seen during the
Leaflets thrown by protesters are seen during the closing news conference at the Lima Group meeting in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Feb. 4, 2019.

"I am sad to say political protesters in Venezuela do not have [that right]," she noted.

Before the Lima Group met, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $40 million in humanitarian aid to the Venezuelan people and condemned the Maduro government as a "dictatorship willing to use force and fear."

Also Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States welcomes the decision by 16 European countries to recognize opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido as Venezuela's leader.

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They include Britain, France, Germany and Spain. The U.S. was among the first major powers to recognize Guaido last week. U.S. President Donald Trump has said all options are on the table regarding Venezuela.

The European leaders gave President Nicolas Maduro a Sunday deadline to call early elections, or they would throw their support behind his rival.

Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks
Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks during the closing news conference at the Lima Group meeting in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Feb. 4, 2019.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized Monday's European declarations as "attempts to legitimize usurped power" and "interference in Venezuela's internal affairs."

But the United Nations has declined to take sides in the crisis in Venezuela.

"The U.N. secretariat has decided not to be part of any of these groups in order to give credibility to our continued offer of good offices to the parties to be able at their request to help find a political solution," Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters Monday.

The collapse in world energy prices along with corruption and failed socialist policies has wrecked the Venezuelan economy. Food, fuel and many basic goods are in severely short supply and inflation is out of control.

Millions of Venezuelans have fled the country and millions more can be expected to go.

Maduro has shown little tolerance for anti-government protests and blames the United States for backing the opposition and plotting a coup.

Maduro was inaugurated for a second term last month after what the U.S. called a sham election.

As head of the opposition-led National Assembly, Guaido invoked what he says is his constitutional right to declare himself president until new elections are held.

VOA's Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.

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