European Union powers recognize Guaido as Venezuelan leader, demand free and fair elections

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Guaido has won backing from the United States, European powers including France, Germany and Spain, Canada, Australia and a dozen Latin American countries to take over the leadership, but Russian Federation and China continue to support Maduro.

Some of the EU countries backing Guaido are part of a newly formed "International Contact Group" of eight European and four Latin American nations.

"The imposition of any solutions or the attempt to legitimize the attempt of the power usurpation is, in our viewpoint, the direct and indirect interference in Venezuela's internal affairs".

Wallstrom echoed Hunt and Sanchez in their calls for an election to take place as soon as possible, she said: "Venezuela is a country in disrepair".

Venezuelan opposition leader looking to challenge President Maduro's blockage of humanitarian aide; Steve Harrigan reports from Caracas.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels after a meeting of European Union foreign affairs ministers, top EU diplomat Federica Mogherini said that "the EU and its member states never recognised as legitimate the presidential elections that were held previous year [in Venezuela]".

Mr. Putin has called Mr. Maduro to relay his support for the regime, and Russian officials reacted angrily to President Trump's suggestion Sunday that USA military action was an option to resolve the crisis.

Guaido lost no time Monday in building on broadened worldwide support, with his fledgling alternative administration announcing February 14 talks in Washington on responding to "the largest hemispheric humanitarian crisis in modern history".

Critics of the hard-left Socialist Maduro - who is accused of running the OPEC nation of 30 million people like a dictatorship and wrecking its economy - blame the Venezuelan government's mismanagement for the lack of food and medical supplies.

Maduro claims the United States pledge to deliver $20 million in aid relief precedes a military intervention.

Meanwhile, the opposition was moving ahead with a risky strategy to bring in humanitarian aid from Colombia, hoping to break the all-important military's loyalty to Maduro.

Guaido appealed to the military's "conscience" to let the aid reach those most in need.

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Key European leaders have overwhelmingly backed opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president.

Most Lima Group members have said Maduro should quit in favour of Guaido and have called for a new election.

Other EU states to support Guaido include Austria, the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Portugal. The European Parliament has called on all EU countries to do so.

Venezuelans are "very close to reclaiming their freedom", he said.

Seven EU states had given Maduro a Sunday midnight deadline to call presidential elections or they would recognise Guaido.

Maduro flatly rejected the demands in an interview with Spanish television, insisting he would not "cave in to pressure".

Maduro began a new term in office last month after disputed 2018 elections whose results were rejected as invalid by the opposition.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and European Union deputy diplomatic chief Helga Schmid also participated by videoconference in the Lima Group talks. While speaking at a meeting of the Lima Group Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country would provide $53 million to help the Venezuelan people.

Maduro accused Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, of having taken "a awful decision" in recognising Guaido.

"Venezuela has to be the master of its own destiny, and it is up to the worldwide community to help and respect the outcome of the democratic process and verify that it takes place with all necessary guarantees", he said.

Maduro has rejected all offers of aid, dismissing it as the thin edge of a wedge of USA military involvement.

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