Last remaining US diplomats leave Venezuela

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A convoy was seen leaving the U.S. embassy in Caracas on Thursday morning and the American flag was no longer flying outside.

Maduro's government in January cut ties with the USA over its recognition of Guaido as Venezuela's rightful leader, a stand taken by about 50 other countries that contend Maduro's re-election a year ago was rigged and that he has no legitimacy.

President Nicolás Maduro said in a speech this week that he hoped the US and Venezuelan governments could continue negotiations to set up interest sections in each other's capital - even as he blamed Washington for a massive five-day blackout that began Thursday and brought the South American country to a virtual halt. The United States and 54 other countries have recognized Guaido Venezuela's interim president.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced that all U.S. diplomats assigned to Venezuela have departed, in an exit the State Department calls "temporary". Venezuela later allowed a skeletal staff to remain at the hilltop U.S. Embassy until Thursday's withdrawal.

Pompeo released a statement Thursday, soon after the last diplomats were reported to have left. He added, the US will resume its presence in the country "once the transition to democracy begins", though he declined to offer a specific timeline. "They are fully dedicated to our mission of supporting the Venezuelan people's aspirations to live in a democracy and build a better future for their families". "It's the Maduro regime which has prevented that", he said.

Washington has taken the lead in recognizing Juan Guaido, the 35-year-old Congress chief who declared himself interim president in January, calling Maduro's 2018 re-election a fraud.

Maduro blamed the blackouts on alleged sabotage engineered by the USA and the Venezuelan opposition.

Morales is one of a few Latin American leaders to support the embattled Maduro, whose country has been reeling from a humanitarian crisis. Maduro, backed by the military, refuses to hand over the government to Guaido. He has also promised an investigation into Guaido for "alleged involvement in the sabotage of the Venezuelan electricity system". But he was remarkably complimentary of the charge d'affaires, James "Jimmy" Story, whom he described as professional, though he said they had not met.

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