MADRID • Spain, France and Germany yesterday gave embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro an ultimatum, saying they would recognise opposition leader Juan Guaido as president unless he calls elections within eight days.
The ultimatum comes as international pressure mounts on the Maduro regime to agree to a new vote, with the United States, Canada and major South American players already recognising Mr Guaido, who proclaimed himself acting president of Venezuela during massive street rallies last week.
The US was yesterday pushing for a United Nations Security Council statement expressing full support for Venezuela's National Assembly as the country's "only democratically elected institution", but Russia was expected to block the move, diplomats said.
After four years of economic pain that has left Venezuelans short of food and medicine and driven more than two million to flee, Mr Guaido is trying to oust Mr Maduro following controversial elections that saw the socialist leader sworn in for a second term.
"If within eight days there are no fair, free and transparent elections called in Venezuela, Spain will recognise Juan Guaido as Venezuelan president" so that he himself can call such polls, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in a televised announcement.
French President Emmanuel Macron followed suit in a tweet, saying "the Venezuelan people must be able to freely decide on their future", as did German government spokesman Martina Fietz.
The coordinated announcements are the most explicit yet from European Union countries as the 28-member bloc struggles to draft a joint statement reflecting its position on the crisis in Venezuela.
Spain had wanted the EU to take a tough line on Mr Maduro by calling for immediate elections, failing which the bloc as a whole would recognise Mr Guaido.
But countries like Austria, Greece and Portugal are much more reluctant. Greece's ruling party Syriza has publicly backed Mr Maduro, with party secretary Panos Skourletis voicing "full support and solidarity" for what he called "the legal president".
Spain is closely linked to Venezuela, a former colony, as some 200,000 of its nationals live there. Mr Sanchez insisted yesterday that Spain is "not looking to impose or remove governments in Venezuela, we want democracy and free elections in Venezuela".
US President Donald Trump's administration has spearheaded the international pressure on Mr Maduro, who accuses Washington of being behind an attempted "coup" by declaring his regime "illegitimate".
The UN Security Council began meeting yesterday at the request of Washington.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, along with several other ministers, were expected to address the 15-member body.
However, Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said on Friday that Moscow would oppose a US push for the Security Council to back Mr Guaido as interim president. Council statements must be agreed by consensus.
With Venezuelan allies China and Russia holding veto power in the Security Council, there is little chance the UN body will agree on a resolution.
Washington's support for Mr Guaido led Mr Maduro to close the US embassy and consulates and break diplomatic ties.
US diplomats in Venezuela had until yesterday to leave the country, but Washington has refused to fully comply with the exit order. Mr Guaido is instead urging the US diplomats to stay and keep the embassy's doors open.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS