The Venezuelan government has ordered the expulsion of Germany's ambassador, citing his alleged support of opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is engaged in a political battle with President Nicolas Maduro.
The government said in a statement that Ambassador Daniel Kriener had 48 hours to leave for what it said was Kriener's meddling in Venezuela's internal affairs. The order came after Kriener met with Guaido at Caracas airport Monday upon Guaido's return to the country.
Guaido, recognized by the U.S. and about 50 other nations as Venezuela's interim leader, returned home on a commercial flight following a tour of Latin American countries in defiance of a court-imposed travel ban.
Guaido called for Maduro's ouster at a rally shortly after his return. Guaido supporters contend that last year's re-election of Maduro, who is supported by Russia, was invalid.
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German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the expulsion order "is an incomprehensible decision, which escalates the situation instead of easing tensions." Maas said German and European allied support of Guaido is "unwavering."
Hours after the Venezuelan government's announcement, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. "will revoke 77 visa, including many officials of the Maduro regime and their families." Pence added the Trump administration "will continue to hold the Maduro regime accountable until libertad (liberty) is restored in Venezuela."
Venezuela is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis that is expected to worsen as U.S. oil sanctions against the country take their toll.
The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, said Wednesday the sanctions have made the crisis even worse. "This situation has been exacerbated by sanctions and the resulting current political economic social institutional crisis is alarming," the former Chilean president said during her first annual address before the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Bachelet also criticized Maduro for his "violation of civil and political rights."
The Trump administration has warned it may take additional measures against Maduro's socialist government.