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Venezuela's Guaido to meet Brazil's president in anti-Maduro push

Venezuela's Guaido to meet Brazil's president in anti-Maduro push
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido shakes hands with Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro after a meeting in Brasilia, Brazil February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino -
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UESLEI MARCELINO(Reuters)
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By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido met with European Union ambassadors to Brazil on Thursday ahead of a meeting with Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro in an effort to drum up international pressure on President Nicolas Maduro to step down.

Although Bolsonaro's right-wing government was one of the first to recognise Guaido as the legitimate leader of neighbouring Venezuela, Guaido will be received without the military honours that are usually afforded to foreign dignitaries and which he received in Colombia last week.

Guaido's office said the Bolsonaro portion of the visit would be private, but the Venezuelan opposition leader's meeting with Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo would be official.

Araujo has led Brazil's contribution to the U.S.-led humanitarian aid plan that has so far failed to get food and medicine into Venezuela, which is suffering from a deep economic crisis marked by widespread shortages of basic necessities.

After meeting Bolsonaro at the presidential palace, Guaido will speak to reporters at 2:30 p.m. local time (1730 GMT) and later visit Brazil's Congress to meet the head of the Senate.

Brazil's military, whose former officers occupy one third of Bolsonaro's cabinet posts, have been careful to avoid breaking off relations with Maduro, a socialist in power since 2013, not least because the northern Brazilian border state of Roraima depends on electricity supplies from Venezuela's Guri dam.

Guaido last month invoked constitutional provisions to assume an interim presidency, arguing Maduro's re-election last year was fraudulent. He has since been recognised by most Western nations as the rightful leader of the oil-producing nation.

Following a visit to Colombia for the launching of a U.S.-led plan to get humanitarian aid into Venezuela, Brazil is Guaido's first stop on a tour of a couple of countries to build diplomatic pressure against Maduro.

"We continue to strengthen relations with countries that have recognised our efforts to restore democracy in Venezuela and hold free elections," Guaido said in a Twitter message after meeting with diplomats from about 20 EU member states.

Guaido, the leader of Venezuela's National Assembly, has said he plans to return to Caracas this week, but his aides declined to give details. Maduro has threatened to have him arrested if he returns to Venezuela for disobeying a court order that he not leave the country.

Brazil is hosting one of the Venezuelan opposition's collection points for aid, and together with the United States has funded the 200 tonnes of food and medicine being stockpiled in the northern city of Boa Vista.

Venezuela's opposition failed to get that aid across the border as planned last weekend after Maduro closed it. Twenty-five Venezuelans who were wounded by gunfire in protests across the frontier were treated in a Brazilian hospital, one of whom died on Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington is still working on plans to get the humanitarian aid delivered to Venezuela.

"We are hopeful that over the next couple of weeks, we can really begin to make a dent in that problem. It is a big problem," Pompeo told reporters while flying to the Philippines from Vietnam.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Paul Simao)

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