Venezuela expels two U.S. diplomats after new sanctions


President Nicolas Maduro expelled the top USA diplomat in Venezuela and his deputy on Tuesday for allegedly conspiring against the socialist government and trying to sabotage the presidential election that took place over the weekend.

A senior USA official said Sunday the Trump administration might press ahead on threats of imposing crippling oil sanctions and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned "sham elections change nothing".

Maduro, the 55-year-old successor to Hugo Chavez, won re-election easily, but critics said the vote was riddled with irregularities, from the barring of two popular opposition rivals to the offering of a government "prize" to voters.

Late a year ago, in another move created to pressure the Venezuelan government to protect the human rights of its citizens, Canada banned 19 Venezuelan officials from the country, including Maduro, and also froze any assets they had in Canada.

"I have declared him persona non grata and I announce the exit of the U.S. chargé d'affaires in 48 hours", Maduro said on Tuesday, referring to Todd Robinson.

Opposition leaders said the lifeless voting centers were evidence that Venezuelans heeded their call to abstain from voting in an election they contended was certain to be rigged in Maduro's favor.

The EU had warned in April that it would consider further sanctions against Venezuela of its own if the elections were not fair.

"The empire won't dominate us here", Maduro said Tuesday in a televised event at an electoral commission meeting.

Venezuela has not had a proper United States ambassador since July 2010, after the authorities in Caracas withdrew the agreement for the appointment of Larry L. Palmer, nominated by then-President Barack Obama.

The U.S. Mission to the UN Twitter account tweeted that Venezuela's elections "an insult to democracy".

Days after landing in Caracas in December, he posed for pictures next to a statue of independence hero Simon Bolivar in a pro-government plaza and called Maduro's constitutional assembly "illegitimate". Turnout in the three previous presidential elections averaged 79 percent.

Electoral council chief Tibisay Lucena, who is on individual US and European Union sanctions lists, certified Maduro's victory in a presentation on Tuesday.

A social crisis years in the making has worsened as Venezuela's oil production - the source of nearly all of its foreign income - has collapsed to the lowest level in decades and financial sanctions by the Trump administration have made it impossible for the government to renegotiate its debts.

But they appeared unlikely to heed the US warnings.

Trump administration officials are known to be considering curbing Venezuelan oil imports, but so far the idea has been discarded for fears it would further raise US gas prices. Beijing said on Tuesday it believed the United States and Venezuela should resolve their differences via talks, while Moscow said it would not comply with the sanctions.

"The parties involved must respect the decision of the Venezuelan people", said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang at a press conference in Beijing on Monday.