Venezuela expels top US diplomat, two others

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro talks during a Council of Ministers at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, in this handout photo provided by Miraflores Palace, Sept 26, 2013. President Nicolas Maduro ordered the expulsion of the top US diplomat in Ven
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro talks during a Council of Ministers at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, in this handout photo provided by Miraflores Palace, Sept 26, 2013. President Nicolas Maduro ordered the expulsion of the top US diplomat in Venezuela and two other embassy officials Monday, accusing them of plotting with the opposition to sabotage the economy. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

CARACAS (AFP) - President Nicolas Maduro ordered the expulsion of the top US diplomat in Venezuela and two other embassy officials on Monday, accusing them of plotting with the opposition to sabotage the economy.

Mr Maduro gave charge d'affaires Kelly Keiderling and the two other diplomats 48 hours to leave the country.

"Yankees go home," the leftist leader said in a public address, adding that he had instructed Foreign Minister Elias Jaua to throw out the three Americans.

The United States and Venezuela have been without mutual ambassadors since 2010, making Keiderling the most senior US diplomat in Caracas.

A US embassy official told AFP that the two other diplomats, Elizabeth Hunderland and David Mutt, work in the mission's political section.

The official said the embassy had yet to receive an official notification of expulsion from the government.

Mr Maduro said the diplomats had met with the "Venezuelan far-right" - as he calls the opposition - to finance his opponents and "encourage actions to sabotage the power system and the economy." Venezuela has endured blackouts for years, and the government has accused the opposition of plotting outages and economic sabotage before.

Earlier this month, Mr Maduro blamed the opposition for causing a major power breakdown that affected much of the country.

"The actions of the government of Barack Obama do not matter," Mr Maduro said Monday, accusing the US president of fomenting sabotage.

"We will not allow an imperial government to bring money and see how they can stop basic companies and stop the electricity to turn off all of Venezuela." Mr Maduro had expelled two US military attaches on March 5, hours before announcing the death of president Hugo Chavez, accusing them of promoting "destabilisation projects."