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Venezuela says it’s expelling top US diplomats

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Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, delivers a speech during a ceremony in which he received the credential as President-elect for the 2019-2025 period in Caracas, Venezuela, on May 22 2018. (Miguel Gutierrez/EFE/ ZUMA Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro announced that he is expelling the top U.S. diplomat in Venezuela and his deputy for conspiring against Venezuela. He said they must leave for the “dignity and independence” of Venezuela.

Maduro declared Charge d’Affaires Todd Robinson and his deputy, Brian Naranjo, “persona non grata” and gave them 48 hours to leave the country during a televised address Tuesday in which he denounced the “offensive” U.S. sanctions, which he said violated international law and caused greater harm and suffering for the Venezuelan people.

“I say to the government of Donald Trump, I say to the government of the Ku Klux Klan,” Maduro declared to applause from supporters. “I say not with sanctions, not with threats, you didn’t stop the elections. The elections happened. And they were successful. … Venezuelan is the victim of a threat never seen before.”

The State Department said it had seen the reports, but did not immediately confirm Maduro’s actions.

The announcement comes after the United States’ latest sanctions against the Venezuelan government in response to what it called an illegitimate and “sham” election Sunday that gave Maduro another six-year term.

The Trump administration announced it was blocking the Venezuelan government from selling off the nation’s assets in exchange for cash.

Trump said he signed the executive order to prevent corrupt Venezuelan officials from conducting “fire sales” and lining their own pockets by selling Venezuelan debt that the nation’s people would be saddled with in the future.

“This money belongs to the Venezuelan people,” Trump said.

Maduro said Venezuela wants a good relationship with the United States, a relationship based on mutual respect. But he said it appears impossible.

“What they don’t want to understand is Venezuela is sovereign and free,” Maduro said. “Venezuela will fight.”

Robinson has only been in the job at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas for a few months. The career diplomat previously served as the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Guatemala from Sept. 16, 2014, to Sept. 20, 2017.

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