President Donald Trump has flagged the possibility of sending US troops to Venezuela as the South American country faces global pressure to hold fresh elections.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is just hours away from the end of an eight-day deadline to declare fresh national elections, after which eight European Union countries say they will recognise opposition leader Juan Guaido as leader.
Mr Guaido, leader of the National Assembly, declared himself interim head of state on January 23, a move which was immediately recognised by the US and other countries.
In excerpts of an interview to be aired by US broadcaster CBS later Monday (Australian time), Mr Trump said sending the military to Venezuela was “an option” and that he has turned down Mr Maduro’s request for a meeting.
“Certainly, it’s something that’s on the – it’s an option,” Mr Trump said, adding that Mr Maduro requested a meeting months ago, which was rejected.
“I’ve turned it down because we’re very far along in the process,” the US President said.
“So, I think the process is playing out – very, very big tremendous protests.”
Tens of thousands of people have thronged the streets to protest the Maduro government, wearing the yellow, red and blue of the Venezuelan flag.
Mr Maduro, meanwhile, warned of civil and military unrest in an interview with Spainish broadcaster La Sexta.
“Everything depends on the degree of insanity and aggressiveness of the northern imperialists [United States] and its Western allies,” he said.
Austria on Sunday became the eighth EU country, alongside Germany, France, Britain, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Belgium, to threaten to recognise the opposition leader if Mr Maduro failed to call elections.
Mr Maduro has dismissed the ultimatum as an “impertinence”.
The successor to left-wing populist leader Hugo Chavez, Mr Maduro won a second term as president in May via an election widely seen as undemocratic.
As pressure to hold elections mounts, a senior air force general disavowed the President in a video circulated earlier on Saturday, expressing his allegiance to parliament head and Mr Guaido.