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Venezuela to limit the number of US diplomats

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By Joanna Gill  with AFP, Reuters, Amnesty International
Venezuela to limit the number of US diplomats

Relations between the US and Venezuela have taken a new turn, as President Nicolas Maduro announced he will limit the number of US diplomats in the country and establish visa fees.

He said the move was necessary due to American ‘meddling’ in the nation’s affairs. It comes after his government detained US citizens, inlcuding a pilot, on suspicion of espionage.

Speaking at what he called the Great Anti-imperialist March in the capital Caracas he said, “I’ve ordered the Foreign Minister to immediately process, in accordance with Article 11.1 of the Vienna Convention, to review, reduce, adjust and limit the number of U.S. officials at the embassy in Venezuela.”

The president said that the US had 100 diplomatic staff working in the country in comparison with Venezuela’s 17 based in America.

He also slapped a ban on George W Bush and Dick Cheney from entering the country, calling them ‘terrorists’.

Maduro has renewed accusations that the US is seeking to oust him from power. The allegations were dismissed by the White House.

The opposition say Maduro is creating a smokescreen to distract from the country’s economic woes in the wake of tumbling oil prices.

As he spoke in Caracas, an anti-government rally attracted thousands of protesters in San Cristobal to call for justice for a 14-year-old boy who was shot dead at a protest on Tuesday. Demonstrators rallied around the boy’s death but voiced their anger at a lack of basic foodstuffs believe.

Missionaries questioned

The head of an evangelical organisation said that a group of missionaries had been called in for questioning on spying allegations after taking part in a medical assistance campaign in the coastal town of Ocumare de le Costa.

Tense relations

The move has strained already tense relations between Washington and Caracas. The two countries have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010.

It is not the first time Maduro has accused the US of attempting to topple his government. Last year the US denied accusations it was recruiting students to lead opposition protests. He also slammed US sanctions on Venezuelan officials as the actions of ‘Arrogant Yankee Imperialists’.

The tense relations stretch back to the era of former leader Hugo Chavez who was briefly toppled in a 2002 coup, which he said was orchestrated by the US. Then president George W Bush endorsed the coup before backtracking when Chavez returned to office.