Venezuela has given US American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country as President Nicolas Maduro accuses US counterpart Donald Trump of “sabotaging” the oil rich nation’s power grid.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said US diplomats must leave within three days, saying their presence on Venezuelan soil “represents a risk for the peace, unity and stability of the country”.
The order on Wednesday morning (Australian time) follows a US State Department announcement on Tuesday that it would recall its staff from Venezuela this week, saying their presence had become “a constraint on US policy”.
Much of Venezuela remained without power for a sixth day on Wednesday following an outage that Mr Maduro called an act of US-backed sabotage on the country’s hydroelectric power operations.
The outage has added to discontent in a country already suffering from hyperinflation and a political crisis resulting from Opposition Leader Juan Guaido assuming the interim presidency after declaring Mr Maduro’s 2018 re-election a fraud.
Washington has taken the lead in recognising opposition Mr Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful president. Most countries in Europe and Latin America have followed suit.
Mr Maduro, who retains control of the military and other state institutions, as well as the backing of Russia and China, has denounced Mr Guaido as a puppet of the US.
Julio Castro, of nongovernmental organisation Doctors for Health, said on Twitter on Tuesday that 24 people have so far died in public hospitals since the start of the blackout as they struggled to keep equipment running.
Food is rotting from the tropical heat and exports from the country’s main oil terminal were shut down.
Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress on Tuesday declared a symbolic “state of alarm”.
Mr Maduro has repeatedly blamed Washington for organising the blackout.
“Donald Trump is most responsible for the cyber attack on the Venezuelan electricity system,” he said in a broadcast from his presidential palace on Tuesday.
“This is a technology that only the government of the United States possesses.”
The blackout was likely caused by a technical problem with transmission lines linking the Guri hydroelectric plant in southeastern Venezuela to the national power grid, experts told Reuters.
The government suspended schools and business activities on Tuesday for two more days, after doing so on Friday and Monday.
Lines extended for blocks at fuel stations as drivers queued up for petrol and busses waited fill up with diesel. Families stood under the sun to buy potable water, which is unavailable for most residents whose homes do not have power.