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U.S. journalist released after arrest in Venezuela, one of his employers says

Venezuelan authorities released American journalist Cody Weddle on Wednesday evening following his arrest in the morning, Miami television station WPLG Local 10 reported.

Cody Weddle is at Caracas airport waiting to leave country, Miami TV station reports

Venezuelan authorities released American journalist Cody Weddle on Wednesday evening following his arrest in the morning, Miami television station WPLG Local 10 reported. (Cody Weddle/Twitter)

Venezuelan authorities released American journalist Cody Weddle on Wednesday evening following his arrest in the morning, Miami television station WPLG Local 10 reported.
 
WPLG, one of the outlets for which Weddle worked, added that he was at the main Caracas-area airport waiting for a U.S.-bound flight. It did not cite its sources on his release, but said his mother was "relieved" to learn the news. 

A doorman at Weddle's residence said a squad of five men wearing black uniforms demanded entry early Wednesday and left with the journalist. Weddle's Venezuelan colleague Carlos Camacho was also arrested, Venezuela's National Press Workers Union said on Twitter, adding that the government has arrested 36 journalists this year. 

Weddle, who has reported from Venezuela for more than four years and has contributed to CBC News, recently covered opposition leader Juan Guaido's return to the country for Miami television station WPLG Local 10 News. 

He had been arrested on charges of treachery, according to free speech group Espacio Publico. Agents took Weddle's computer and equipment, the group said.

The move, which came a week after Venezuela deported a team from U.S. television network Univision, drew condemnation from Organization of American States Secretary-General Luis Almagro and Florida Sen. Rick Scott. 

Tensions are escalating by the day in Venezuela, where U.S.-backed Guaido seeks to oust President Nicolas Maduro. 

German ambassador ordered out

Also on Wednesday, the Venezuelan government ordered the German ambassador to leave the country after he expressed support for Guaido, escalating a diplomatic standoff with a group of about 50 nations that recognize the opposition leader as the country's interim president.

Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza tweeted a statement saying German Ambassador Daniel Kriener interfered in Venezuela's internal affairs and allied himself with "extremist sectors" of the opposition.
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, left, met with German ambassador to Venezuela Daniel Kriener, right, in September 2018. Kriener and other diplomats greeted opposition leader Juan Guaido when he returned to Venezuela on Monday and vowed to intensify his campaign to topple the Maduro government. (Miraflores Palace via Reuters)

Venezuela considers it unacceptable that a foreign diplomat would take on "a public role more appropriate to that of a political leader," the government statement said. It gave Kriener 48 hours to leave the country. 

Kriener and some other diplomats greeted Guaido when he returned to Venezuela on Monday and vowed to intensify his campaign to topple Maduro's government.

At the country's main airport, Kriener told journalists he hoped the leader of the National Assembly would be safe. There were concerns that the opposition leader might face detention, but Maduro's government did not move against him.

'An incomprehensible decision'

After the expulsion order, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he had decided to recall Kriener to Berlin for consultations.

"This is an incomprehensible decision that aggravates the situation and does not contribute to de-escalation," Maas said in a statement.

"Our, Europe's, support for Juan Guaido is unbroken. Ambassador Kriener is doing excellent work in Caracas, including in recent days."

In a speech at the National Assembly, Guaido condemned the expulsion of the ambassador. 

"They're threatening an important European country that is providing humanitarian help to Venezuela," he said.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence said the U.S. will revoke more visas from prominent Venezuelans as it seeks to increase pressure on Maduro to give up power.

Pence told the Latino Coalition that the U.S. will revoke 77 visas held by officials in the Maduro government or their relatives, saying "the time has come to liberate Venezuela from Cuba."

Guaido says Maduro ignoring him

The U.S. revoked 49 visas last week and has imposed multiple rounds of sanctions as part of a campaign to force Maduro to turn over power to Guaido.

Guaido has said Maduro has effectively been ignoring him since his return to Venezuela in hopes that his political momentum will fade. On Tuesday, Maduro belittled his opponents as "opportunists and cowards," but did not mention Guaido by name. 

The adversaries have announced rival demonstrations on Saturday as they seek to motivate supporters. 

Venezuela broke off diplomatic ties with neighbouring Colombia after Maduro's security forces blocked a Feb. 23 attempt by Guaido and allies to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela from Colombia and Brazil.

He also broke diplomatic relations with the United States after it recognized Guaido as interim president in late January, initially giving American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country. The Trump administration refused to obey Maduro's order.

The U.S., Germany and some 50 other countries consider Maduro's re-election invalid and have urged him to step aside so the country can prepare for elections. Maduro says he is the target of a U.S.-backed coup plot.

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