Britain, France, Spain and Germany were among 15 European nations to officially recognise Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s “interim president”, in move which was swiftly denounced by Nicolas Maduro asa “gringo plot to overthrow the revolution”.
The European countries followed the lead set by the United States, which on January 23 became the first country to declare Mr Guaido, 35, the country’s rightful ruler.
They backed his argument that, as leader of the national assembly, he should take control because the presidency was left “vacant”, due to 56-year-old Mr Maduro’s sham re-election.
The Europeans, instead of immediately following Washington’s decision, gave Mr Maduro an eight-day deadline to call fresh elections, or else have his authority removed. When that expired on Sunday, they announced the diplomatic change.
«From today, we will spare no effort in helping allVenezuelansachieve freedom, prosperity and harmony,» said Pedro Sanchez, the Spanish prime minister.
Mr Maduro appeared particularly piqued by Spain’s participation in the announcement, singling out the Spaniards as “cowards”.
Spain’s former prime minister, Jose Luis Zapatero, led what were perhaps the most significant attempts at dialogue between the rival sides, with talks beginning in 2016 and breaking down at the end of last year.
Mr Maduro, in power since 2013, told a military rally on Monday in the northern state of Aragua that the European decision was “disastrous”.
“I, Nicolas Maduro Moros, the legitimate and constitutional president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, swear that I will defend with my very own life this homeland of Venezuela,” he vowed.
“I will carry on governing, together with the people, for the six years I have the right to govern for.”
He also reiterated hisaccusations that the US was staging a coup.
John Bolton, Donald Trump’s national security adviser and one of the strongest Venezuela hawks, praised the decision and urged other countries to follow suit.
«The United States welcomes European states’ recognition of Juan Guaido as the President of Venezuela,» he tweeted.
«I urge countries to stand against authoritarianism and the suffering across Venezuela, and to make the same responsible decision to support democracy in Venezuela.»
Mr Maduro has written a letter to Pope Francis requesting a renewal of dialogue in the crisis, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
Mr Guaido has also asked the Argentine pontiff to intervene.
But the pope has said that, although he is deeply concerned by the humanitarian suffering, he was not in a position to mediate.
Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, said UN officials would not participate in any international initiatives on Venezuela in order to remain neutral.
Mexico and Uruguay have offered to host talks, and Mr Maduro said he is open to dialogue, but Mr Guaido last week rejected their offer.
Mr Guaido has called for further protests, and this weekend plans to oversee a deliberate provocation of the military by ordering in supplies of humanitarian aid. Mr Maduro has said that the aid will be turned away by his armed forces; Mr Guaido has called on the troops to allow the assistance in, to help the struggling citizens.
Meanwhile, the Lima Group – a 14 nation association of American nations – recommended stopping short of further sanctions on Mr Maduro’s teetering regime.
Although the United States has broached the idea of an oil embargo on Venezuela, the countries said it should not take the drastic step.
The challenge for participants is that Mexico, a member of the group, opposes any measures to oust Mr Maduro, who also has the backing of Turkey in addition to Russia and China.