Major European nations recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s interim president on Monday, calling on him to hold fresh elections.
The UK was first to make the announcement, which came after President Nicolas Maduro ignored a demand set by some EU nations last week to call new elections by the end of Sunday. Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands followed suit.
“Nicolas Maduro has not called Presidential elections within 8 day limit we have set,” British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt tweeted on Monday. “So UK alongside European allies now recognises @jguaido as interim constitutional president until credible elections can be held. Let’s hope this takes us closer to ending humanitarian crisis.”
Maduro on Sunday rejected what he called the “ultimatum” set by EU leaders. “We don’t accept ultimatums from anyone. It’s as if I went to the EU and said, ‘I give you seven days to recognize the republic of Catalonia or if not, we will take measures. No, no. International politics cannot base itself on ultimatums. That is the epoch of imperialism or colonies,” Maduro said in an interview with Spanish TV network LaSexta.
Speaking on France Inter radio on Monday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian countered that the move was “not foreign meddling,” but an effort to re-establish democracy in Venezuela.
“This is not foreign meddling insofar as there is a crisis and a call from President Guaido to support him in re-establishing democracy. We believe there must be elections to validate the choice of Venezuelans,” Le Drian said, after acknowledging him as legitimate interim president. French president Emmanuel Macron also backed Guaido on Monday, recognizing him as ‘acting President’ in a tweet.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking at a press conference in Tokyo, also said her country recognizes Guaido as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela and urged him to organize presidential elections.
Guaido, the leader of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, declared himself acting president on January 23, invoking a constitutional rule to open a rare challenge to Maduro’s claim to the presidency.
The announcement was welcomed by huge crowds in the capital and recognized by a chorus of world leaders, including US President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Guaido, who spoke with Trudeau in a phone call on Sunday, thanked the prime minister for his support on Twitter: “Thank you, Prime Minister @ JustinTrudeau for the extensive conversation we had. Thanks for joining us on this path. It is very important for the country to count on your support during the peaceful transition of Venezuela.”
The 35-year-old was head of the Venezuela’s assembly for merely three weeks before declaring himself interim president, but has quickly energized the movement against Maduro.
Maduro was re-elected to a six-year term last year, and though he asserted the elections were fair, international observers have questioned their legitimacy.
Guaido has promised a transitional government and free elections to end the rule of the socialist Maduro regime, which has overseen the once-wealthy oil nation’s descent into economic collapse and a humanitarian crisis.
EU and Latin American countries will meet in Montevideo, Uruguay, on Thursday to discuss the Venezuela crisis as part of a newly formed “international contact group.”
In a joint statement released on Sunday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez said the group aims to “create conditions for a political and peaceful process to emerge, enabling Venezuelans to determine their own future, through the holding of free, transparent and credible elections.”