Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó has rejected an offer of talks from President Nicolás Maduro amid an ongoing power struggle between the two. Guaidó declared himself “acting president” on Wednesday, a position that has been recognized by several countries, including the US, Canada, the Lima Group and some EU members, but not the EU as a block..
Mr. Maduro called the move a coup influenced by the US and cut off diplomatic ties in response. A UN Security Council meeting on the crisis is due to be held on Saturday.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has appointed a veteran former diplomat as his envoy to deal with the crisis in Venezuela. He said Elliott Abrams would be responsible for all US efforts to restore democracy in Venezuela.
Mr Abrams is a prominent neo-conservative who has long argued for an activist foreign policy to spread American values around the world. He served as US Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs in the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan.
President Maduro began a second term earlier this month after polls marred by an opposition boycott and vote-rigging claims. The international community is split on whether to recognize his government.
On Friday, he said he was ready to talk to his rival - but Mr. Guaidó said he rejected fake dialogue and again said he would consider offering him amnesty.
Mr. Maduro has so far retained the support of the country's military, but Mr Guaidó has asked them to put themselves on the side of the Venezuelan people and back him instead. He has also called for major demonstrations demanding Mr Maduro's resignation to be held next week.
Venezuela is in economic crisis - hyperinflation and shortages of basic essentials has hit its population hard and caused millions to flee.
Mr Maduro has faced internal opposition and ongoing international criticism for his human rights record and handling of the economy.
Mr Guaidó - who is leader of Venezuela's elected National Congress - said on Wednesday that the country's constitution allows him to take power because Mr Maduro's presidency is illegitimate. He has promised to lead a transitional government and hold free elections.
The US, more than a dozen Latin American countries, Canada and the UK have backed Mr Guaidó after he said he was the legitimate president. But Russia has condemned foreign support for Mr Guaidó, saying it violates international law and is a direct path to bloodshed.
On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denounced US policy toward Mr Maduro as destructive. According to Reuters, Russian military contractors have been flown secretly into the country to provide security for the president. China and Turkey have also publicly backed Mr Maduro. Mexico and Uruguay have called for dialogue and mediation between government and opposition.