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CARACAS, Venezuela â After several days of student-led protests against his government, President Nicolás Maduro said Sunday that he was expelling three American consular officials who he said had been visiting universities here.
He did not say exactly what the officials had done to deserve expulsion, nor did he identify them, saying they had claimed to be visiting private universities to offer visas to students.
Mr. Maduro, a socialist who was elected in April, has often said the United States is seeking to oust him from office; Sunday was the third time in less than a year that he has announced the expulsion of American officials.
Mr. Maduro kicked out the American chargé dâaffaires and two other embassy officials in September. In March, on the same day that he announced the death of his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, Mr. Maduro expelled two American military attachés. In both those cases he said the officials had been conspiring against the government, charges that Washington denied.
Mr. Maduro also said Sunday that a State Department official had contacted Venezuelaâs ambassador to the Organization of American States in Washington and warned of negative consequences if Venezuela arrested a prominent opposition politician, Leopoldo López. He said Mr. López was responsible for violence tied to the recent demonstrations.
âI donât accept threats from anybody,â said Mr. Maduro, who has said the recent protests are part of a coup attempt against him.
Demonstrators say they have taken to the streets to protest rising crime, high inflation and government pressure on the news media, among other complaints.
It was not possible to immediately confirm the conversation with the State Department official.
Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement on Saturday expressing concern about the violence in Venezuela and the reports that the government was seeking to arrest Mr. López.
âThese actions have a chilling effect on citizensâ rights to express their grievances peacefully,â Mr. Kerryâs statement said.
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