European Union powers recognize Guaido as Venezuelan leader, demand free and fair elections

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is on a two-day visit to Japan, said at a news conference that "we recognize Juan Guaido as interim president of Venezuela, tasked with starting the political transition and leading the country to free, transparent and credible elections".

Seven EU states had given Maduro a Sunday deadline to call presidential elections or they would recognize Guaido.

"Venezuela has to be the master of its own destiny, and it is up to the global community to help and respect the outcome of the democratic process and verify that it takes place with all necessary guarantees", he said.

Critics of Maduro blame the Venezuelan government's mismanagement for the lack of food and medical supplies. In a statement, it accused them of submitting to a USA "strategy to overthrow the legitimate government" and singled out Spain for acting "cowardly".

The EU nations had attempted to pressure Mr.

"So UK alongside European allies now recognises Juan Guaido as interim constitutional president until credible elections can be held".

In a video statement posted on Twitter, Sanchez recognised Guaido as interim leader and called for new elections "as soon as possible".

The global split over Venezuela has left the United Nations in a quandary and Guterres' comments suggested that the world body would remain on the sidelines for now.

"Soldiers, we continue to wait for you".

He began to exercise authority for the first time this weekend, calling on the army to allow in humanitarian aid to a nation wracked by economic crisis. Our global editor Lindsey Hilsum is in Caracas.

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Maduro showed no signs of caving in and lashed out at the European Union, accusing it of taking orders from the Trump administration, who he has repeatedly accused of trying to carry out a coup to get its hands on Venezuela's oil reserves, the world's largest. "You are making mistakes that will leave your hands covered in blood and you will leave the presidency stained with blood", President Maduro said.

The bloc wants Maduro to hold new elections after last year's vote is disputed. The challenge for the Lima Group is that Mexico opposes measures to oust Maduro.

"The global community's goal should be to help (Venezuela), without destructive meddling from beyond its borders", Alexander Shchetinin, head of the Latin America department at Russia's Foreign Ministry, told Interfax.

Foreign affairs minister Stef Blok said the move was created to put pressure on the incumbent president, Nicolás Maduro, to hold "free democratic and transparent" elections as soon as possible.

Last month, the Lima Group announced a travel ban on senior Venezuelan officials and a freeze on their foreign assets.

Meanwhile Guaido, already recognized by the US, Canada, Australia and several Latin American countries, said he would soon lobby the European Union for badly-needed humanitarian and economic aid.

In New York, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said U.N. officials will not participate in global initiatives on Venezuela in order to remain neutral.

But David Lipton, the No. 2 at the International Monetary Fund, called Venezuela's economic crisis - marked by widespread food shortages, protracted hyperinflation and the loss of human capital through emigration - an "unprecedented economic storm" that will required generous, broad-based international support to overcome.

Guaido accused Maduro's government of trying to move up to $1.2 billion from the state development bank Bandes to a financial entity in Uruguay, but did not present evidence.

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