Venezuela's political showdown moved to the UN where a Security Council meeting called by the US pitted backers of President Nicolas Maduro against the Trump administration and supporters of the country's self-declared interim leader Juan Guaido.

The latest standoff could set the scene for more violence and has plunged troubled Venezuela into a new chapter of political turmoil.
The latest standoff could set the scene for more violence and has plunged troubled Venezuela into a new chapter of political turmoil. (Reuters)

The United States urged all nations on Saturday to support Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido while Russia accused the Trump administration of attempting "to engineer a coup d'etat" against President Nicolas Maduro — a reflection of the world's deep divisions over the crisis in the embattled Latin American country.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the UN Security Council at a meeting called by the United States that it's beyond time to back the Venezuelan people as they try to free themselves from what he called Maduro's "illegitimate mafia state" and back Guaido, who has declared himself the country's interim president, arguing that Maduro's re-election was fraudulent.

But Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Venezuela doesn't threaten international peace and security and accused "extremist opponents" of Maduro's legitimate government of choosing "maximum confrontation," including the artificial creation of a parallel government. 

He urged Pompeo to say whether the US will use military force.

Pompeo later told reporters who asked for a response, "I am not going to speculate or hypothesise on what the US will do next."

What has played out in Venezuela and the world's media between supporters and opponents of the Maduro government played out face-to-face in the chamber of the UN's most powerful body, which has failed to take action on the Venezuelan crisis because of deep divisions, especially among the Security Council's five veto-wielding permanent members.

TRT World's Frank Ucciardo has more from the UN.

EU ultimatum

The leaders of two of those council nations — France and Britain — joined Spain and Germany to turn up the pressure on Maduro on Saturday, saying they would follow the US and others in recognising Guaido unless Venezuela calls new presidential elections within eight days.

But Venezuela’s foreign minister rejected the ultimatum, insisting that Nicolas Maduro remained the legitimate president despite US-led pressure.

“Nobody is going to give us deadlines or tell us if there are elections or not,” Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told a special session of the United Nations Security Council.

“How is it that you can issue an ultimatum to a sovereign government?” he asked.

Allegiances sought

The opposition to Guaido was reflected in the initial procedural vote on whether the 15-member Security Council should even discuss the crisis in Venezuela, which is not on its official agenda.

The United States barely survived the vote to go ahead with the meeting, receiving the minimum nine "yes" votes from the council's six Western nations along with Kuwait, Peru and the Dominican Republic. 

China, South Africa and Equatorial Guinea joined Russia in voting "no" while Indonesia and Ivory Coast abstained.

Pompeo went after Russia and China, accusing them of trying "to prop up Maduro while he is in dire straits ... in the hopes of recovering billions of dollars in ill-considered investments and assistance made over the years."

But he saved his pointed attack for Cuba, saying no country has done more to sustain "the nightmarish condition of the Venezuelan people." He said Cuba has sent "security and intelligence thugs" to sustain Maduro's "illegitimate rule."

"Now is the time for every other national to pick a side," Pompeo said. "No more delays, no more games. Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you're in league with Maduro and his mayhem."

China's UN Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu said his government "firmly opposed" the US accusations and doesn't interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

Presidential standoff

The council meeting came a day after Guaido vowed to remain on the streets until his country has a transitional government, while Maduro dug in and accused his opponents of orchestrating a coup.

In rival press conferences, Guaido urged his followers to stage another mass protest next week, while Maduro pushed his call for dialogue.

Each man appeared ready to defend his claim to the presidency no matter the cost, with Guaido telling supporters that if he is arrested they should "stay the course" and peacefully protest.

But the standoff could set the scene for more violence and has plunged troubled Venezuela into a new chapter of political turmoil that rights groups say has already left more than two dozen dead as thousands take to the street demanding Maduro step down.

Guaido took a symbolic oath of office on Wednesday proclaiming himself the nation's constitutional leader on grounds that Maduro's re-election last year was fraudulent — an allegation supported by the US, the European Union and many other nations.

The government of President Donald Trump announced it was recognising the 35-year-old leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly quickly after his oath, leading Maduro to say that he was breaking all diplomatic ties with the United States and expelling US diplomats. Guaido told the Americans to stay.

Guaido's move is the most direct challenge to Maduro's rule despite years of protests at home and international efforts to isolate the regime amid a growing humanitarian crisis fuelled by falling oil prices and government mismanagement.

Maduro is accusing the opposition of working with the US to overthrow him. Though over a dozen nations are recognising Guaido as president, Maduro still has the support of the military and powerful, longtime allies like Russia and China.

"This is nothing more than a coup d'etat, ordered, promoted, financed and supported by the government of the United States," Maduro said on Friday. "They intend to put a puppet government in Venezuela, destroy the state and take colonial control of the country."

But he added that he was still willing to talk with the opposition even if he "had to go naked."

Journalist Cody Weddle has more from Caracas.

Both sides attempted dialogue last year, but it fell apart as Maduro pushed forward with an early election that the country's most popular opposition leaders were barred from running in. 

Many in the international community condemned that vote and now consider the National Assembly, which Maduro has stripped of its power, the only legitimate institution.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies