World

Opposition leader barred from leaving Venezuela

Venezuela's Supreme Court has barred opposition leader Juan Guaido from leaving the country as international pressure mounts against the government led by President Nicolas Maduro.

Self-proclaimed president's movements restricted, assets frozen amid tensions

Venezuela's Supreme Court barred opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido from leaving the country. (Carlos Garcia Rawlin/Reuters)

Venezuela's Supreme Court has barred opposition leader Juan Guaido from leaving the country as international pressure mounts against the government led by President Nicolas Maduro.

The move comes hours after chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab asked the government-stacked high court to restrict Guaido's movements and freeze any assets.

Saab said a criminal probe into Guaido's anti-government activities has been launched but did not announce any specific charges against him.

Both Saab and the Supreme Court are aligned with the embattled Maduro.

Guaido is head of the opposition-controlled congress and declared himself the nation's rightful president under the constitution last week, hurling the nation into a new chapter of uncertainty.

Two dozen nations, including Canada, the U.S. and some of Latin America's biggest countries, have recognized Guaido as Venezuela's interim president, while China and Russia are backing Maduro. 

The U.S. State Department, meanwhile, said Americans shouldn't travel to Venezuela, warning of unrest, the threat of being arbitrarily arrested and the danger of mass demonstrations erupting with little notice. The announcement raised the travel advisory to its highest level, putting Venezuela on a no-travel list that also includes Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and South Sudan.

'Serious consequences'

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton issued a warning to the Maduro government earlier in the day urging them not to harm Guaido, who has been recognized by the Trump administration and two dozen other nations as Venezuela's rightful president.

The order preventing Guaido from leaving comes as tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela reach a new high, with Maduro accusing the Trump administration of staging a coup against his presidency and Guaido seeking to consolidate an interim government under his own leadership.

Guaido has thus far managed to avoid arrest, and the Supreme Court did not strip him of his legislative immunity, though the new investigation may signal that Maduro's socialist government is moving to take a more punitive approach.

Speaking earlier outside the National Assembly, Guaido said he is aware of personal risks, but added, "Venezuela is set on change, and the world is clearly conscious of what's happening."

"I don't underestimate the threat of persecution at the moment, but here we are," he added.

The U.S. has emerged as Guaido's most powerful ally, announcing on Tuesday that it was giving him control of Venezuela's U.S. bank accounts. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certified that Guaido has the authority to take control of any Venezuelan government accounts at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or any other U.S.-insured banks.

Pompeo said the certification would "help Venezuela's legitimate government safeguard those assets for the benefit of the Venezuelan people."

Maduro expands militia

Violent street demonstrations erupted last week after Guaido during a huge opposition rally in Caracas declared that he had assumed presidential powers under the constitution and planned to hold fresh elections to end Maduro's "dictatorship."

Guido is calling for nationwide walkouts Wednesday afternoon and another round of mass protests Saturday as he seeks to ramp up pressure on Maduro. But Maduro has so far shown no signs that he is looking to cede the presidency.

Nicolas Maduro, centre, has shown no signs of ceding the presidency. (Miraflores Palace via Reuters)

Maduro went on state television Tuesday to announce that he was beefing up the nation's defense by expanding Venezuela's civilian armed militia to two million members. The reserve force was created by the late Hugo Chavez to train civilians to assist the armed forces and defend the socialist revolution from attacks.

"Once more we'll come out victorious," said Maduro, who wore a green cap and shirt before rows of troops. "We are on the right side of history."

On Monday, the U.S. hit Venezuela's state-owned oil company with potentially devastating economic sanctions that could cost the already distressed nation billions in revenue.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow shares the view of the Venezuelan government that the U.S. sanctions are "illegal" and sees them as a tool of unfair competition by the United States.

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