Venezuela diplomats expelled by US in tit-for-tat row


The campaign in Venezuela started while crowds were still mourning Hugo Chavez

The United States has expelled two Venezuelan diplomats,following the expulsion of US attaches from Caracas.

The move comes as two US military officials were sent back only hours before the announcement of President Hugo Chavez’s death on Tuesday.

At the time, Vice President Nicolas Maduro accused them of “attempting to destabilise the country.”
Mr Maduro is now acting president and the official candidate for the presidential elections on 14 April.

He will face the opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who has agreed to run for the umbrella opposition group Table for Democratic Unity (MUD).
Both men started trading accusations even before they formalised their candidacies on Monday.

Mr Capriles said Mr Maduro was using the body of Mr Chavez as an electoral prop and suggested that he faked tears during the leader’s funeral.

The acting president, and Mr Chavez’s chosen successor, hit back, calling Mr Capriles a “fascist”, and accusing him of insulting the memory of Mr Chavez.

‘Biggest mistake’

Profile: Nicolas Maduro

Profile: Henrique Capriles

Meanwhile, the former Cuban leader Fidel Castro made his first remarks about the death of his close friend Mr Chavez, calling him “Cuba’s best friend in history.”

In a newspaper article, Mr Castro said he had been “hard hit” by the death of the Venezuelan president last week.
Mr Chavez died on 5 Marchafter a two-year battle against cancer.
Correspondents say the stage is now set for a bitter presidential campaign.

The opposition boycotted Mr Maduro’s swearing-in on Friday, claiming that – under the constitution – the speaker of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, should be the one to take over asacting president.
Mr Capriles called the move fraudulent.
On Sunday, he again accused the socialist PSUV of violating the constitution.

Mr Capriles, 40, is a lawyer by training and governor of the state of Miranda. He describes his policies as “centrist” and “humanist”.
In his televised address on Sunday, Nicolas Maduro accused Mr Capriles of inciting hatred, and said hewas trying to provoke violence by insulting the late president’s image.

He announced that he would ask the national assembly to change the constitution on Tuesday toallow Mr Chavez’s body to lie beside that of 19th Century South American revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar.
Mr Chavez – who led Venezuela for 14 years – won last October’s election against Mr Capriles, polling 54% of the vote to Mr Capriles’s 44%.

Mr Chavez named his 50-year-old vice-president and foreign minister as his preferred successor following the recurrence of cancer.
Mr Maduro’s friendship with Hugo Chavez dates back to when the former president served time in prison for an attempted coup in 1992.

The former bus driver campaigned for Mr Chavez to be released – which happened two years later.
He has vowed to carry on where the late leader left off but acknowledged that Mr Chavez would be difficult to follow.

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