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Backers of Venezuelan opposition leader occupy embassy in Brazil

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By Reuters
Backers of Venezuelan opposition leader occupy embassy in Brazil
Supporters of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gather outside the Venezuelan embassy in Brasilia, Brazil, November 13, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes   -   Copyright  SERGIO MORAES(Reuters)

By Sergio Moraes and Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil dispatched diplomats and police officers on Wednesday to resolve a standoff inside the Venezuelan embassy in Brasilia after it was occupied by backers of Venezuela’s opposition.

Representatives of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro later regained access to the building, creating a tricky situation for Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who has recognised opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.

The incident caused scuffles outside the embassy and a diplomatic embarrassment for Brazil’s government as it hosted the BRICS summit of major emerging economies in the capital, including the leaders of China and Russia, who support Maduro.

Guaido’s envoy in Brazil, Maria Teresa Belandria, had not been able to access the embassy since she arrived 10 months ago and has been living and working out of a Brasilia hotel.

Crowds of Brazilians who gathered outside the embassy to support the rival claims of Maduro and Guaido traded insults and some came to blows before police could separate them.

Venezuelan embassies around the world have become flash points for the competing claims of Guaido, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, and Maduro, a socialist who took over from late President Hugo Chavez in 2013.

Earlier this year, Guaido invoked constitutional provisions to assume an interim presidency, arguing that Maduro’s re-election last year was fraudulent. He has since been recognised by most Western nations as the rightful leader of Venezuela.

An occupation by protesters at the Venezuelan embassy in Washington in May resulted in arrests before the building was returned to Guaido’s representatives, who are recognised by the United States.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said on Twitter the embassy in Brasilia had been “invaded by force at dawn.”

Belandria said in a statement that her group had gained access when some embassy staff opened the doors voluntarily.

“We are 10 people and we entered peacefully. It was the Maduro people who came in violently,” Venezuelan Army Mayor Jose Gregorio, who deserted to Brazil this year, told Reuters by telephone. He said a young woman in his group had fainted from the heat and was taken to hospital.

Brazilian diplomats and police officers responsible for the safety of embassies in Brasilia were trying to mediate and work out a solution, Brazil’s Foreign Ministry said.

The office of Bolsonaro’s security adviser, General Augusto Heleno, said in a statement the president had not “incentivised the invasion of the Venezuelan embassy.”

(Reporting by Sergio Moraes and Anthony Boadle; Additional reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; Editing by Brad Haynes and Paul Simao)