Nicolas Maduro has compared Donald Trump to “the head of the KKK” as the embattled Venezuelan leader continues to defy efforts by Western powers to recognise opponent Juan Guaido as acting president.
European countries including France, Germany and the UK are among those to have formally recognised Mr Guaido as the acting president of Venezuela, with Mr Maduro having rejected an EU ultimatum to call elections.
The socialist leader – who maintains the backing of Russia, China and Turkey, and the critical support of the military – has told Sky Italia that he will continue to resist calls for him to give up power.
He said he had written to the Pope for help to “facilitate and strengthen dialogue” to resolve the impasse, with tension having been heightened since Mr Trump suggested the US military might intervene.
Mr Maduro said he would resist any such move, as he repeated claims that the US president wanted to turn his country into “a new Vietnam”.
“Europe and the world need to know that the White House has been taken over by an extremist,” he said.
“It is like the Klu Kluk Klan arrived in the White House and Donald Trump is the head of the KKK. He’s surrounded by a group of people they call the Venezuela team.”
Mr Maduro claimed that Mike Pence, the US vice president; John Bolton, national security adviser to Mr Trump; and the secretary of state Mike Pompeo were all part of the “supremacist” group.
He said they “dedicate themselves daily to conspire against Venezuela” – including the option of “a military coup”.
The president – who was elected in 2013 and is widely viewed as a dictator – said he was determined that a “crazy war” would not erupt in his homeland.
In a warning to Mr Trump over potential military intervention, he said: “The Venezuelan people, and our armed forces, the Bolivarian National Army – we won’t let them take an inch of our national territory.
“This is the land of Simon Bolivar, this is the land that took its army and liberated Latin America some hundred years ago. It is land of pride, of patriotism.”
The Lima Group of Latin American countries and Canada has called on Venezuela’s military to support opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president.
They also urged them “not to impede the transit of humanitarian assistance to Venezuelans”, as they called for a peaceful change in government in the country without military intervention.
The multilateral body, which has 14 members, was established after the Lima Declaration in August 2017.
Its members welcomed Mr Guaido’s “legitimate government of Venezuela” at a meeting in Ottawa on Monday, and vowed to “recognise and work with” his representatives in their respective countries.
Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland said 34 countries have so far recognised Mr Guaido as Venezuela’s interim leader until new elections are held.
Simon Bolivar was a revolutionary who played a key role in liberating several Latin American countries – including Venezuela – from the rule of Spain in the early 19th century.
He spearheaded a number of successful military campaigns against the Spanish.
Last week, Mr Guaido used an interview with Sky News to plea to European countries to recognise him as president and help him rebuild a country flailing from economic collapse.
Under Mr Maduro, Venezuela has suffered from hyperinflation and shortages of basic goods and medicines.
Russia is one of the few foreign powers to have spoken out in his favour, with the Kremlin having condemned European countries for recognising Mr Guaido as acting president.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Vladimir Putin, said the move was an attempt “to legitimise usurped power” and would not result in a “peaceful, effective and lasting settlement of the crisis the Venezuelans are going through”.
(c) Sky News 2019: Venezuela crisis: Defiant Maduro compares Trump to ‘head of the KKK’