Nicolas Maduro’s regime has been blocked from ripping $US1.2 billion ($A1.7 billion) worth of gold out of the Bank of England.
According to Bloomberg, which cites unnamed people familiar with the matter, officials for the embattled Venezuelan leader made a last-ditch attempt to withdraw the massive sum — a significant part of the country’s $US8 billion ($A11.2 billion) in foreign reserves held by the central bank.
The Bank of England declined to comment on how it handles Venezuelan assets, saying it “provides banking services — including gold custody services — to a large number of customers” and “does not comment on any of those relationships”.
“In all its operations, the Bank observes the highest standards of risk management and abides by all relevant legislation, including applicable financial sanctions,” it said in a statement.
It comes after the UK and several other European countries joined the US and a number of other countries in saying it would recognise opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has claimed the presidency.
Speaking before his meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence and US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was “clear that Nicolas Maduro is not the legitimate leader of Venezuela”.
Last week, US President Donald Trump made the extraordinary step of recognising Mr Guaido as the interim president in Venezuela, taking to Twitter to declare his support.
The citizens of Venezuela have suffered for too long at the hands of the illegitimate Maduro regime. Today, I have officially recognized the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela. https://t.co/WItWPiG9jK
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 23, 2019
Mr Trump’s move prompted Mr Maduro to announce he was breaking off diplomatic ties with the US.
The leaders of Canada, Colombia, Brazil and Paraguay have also expressed their support for Mr Guaido.
Over the weekend, Spain, France, the Netherlands and Germany followed suit.
MADURO REJECTS ‘ULTIMATUM’
Mr Maduro has rejected a European ultimatum that he call elections as opposition rival Juan Guaido stepped up appeals to the military to turn against the leftist government.
The US, meanwhile, warned there would be a “significant response” if US diplomats, Mr Guaido, or the opposition-controlled National Assembly were targeted with violence and intimidation.
Speaking of the growing support for Mr Guaido across Europe, Mr Maduro called on them to “withdraw”.
“They should withdraw this ultimatum. No one can give us an ultimatum,” he told CNN Turk.
“Venezuela is not tied to Europe. This is complete insolence,” Maduro said, as he described the European countries’ actions as a “mistake”.
Later, he appeared at a military exercise in the state of Carabobo where he called for “union, discipline and cohesion” to defeat what he called an “attempted coup d’etat”.
“Traitors never, loyal always,” he exhorted the military audience. Televised images showed tanks lined up in a row and soldiers firing their weapons.
“Are you coupsters or are you constitutionalists? Are you pro-imperialist or anti-imperialists,” he said.
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Mr Maduro has received support from Russia, Syria, Turkey and China as well as longtime allies Cuba and Bolivia.
“All that is happening is linked to America. They are attacking us and they think Venezuela is their back garden,” he said.
Although he professed himself “open to dialogue,” he acknowledged it was unlikely. “I sent many messages to Donald Trump,” he said.
MILITARY QUELLS SOLDIERS’ REVOLT
Last week, security forces put down a pre-dawn uprising by national guardsmen that triggered violent street protests.
Venezuela’s government said last Monday it had suppressed a military revolt after a group of officers stole weapons and kidnapped several officials, as a video posted online showed a sergeant demanding the removal of Mr Maduro.
Some two dozen officers attacked a National Guard outpost in the Caracas neighbourhood of Cotiza, 1km from the presidential Miraflores Palace, where they met “firm resistance,” the government said. Witnesses reported hearing gunshots at about 3am.
Protesters later burned rubbish and a car outside the outpost, where the 25 officers were arrested, in a sign of growing tensions following Mr Maduro’s inauguration to a second term.
The uprising triggered further protests in a poor neighbourhood just a few kilometres from Venezuela’s presidential palace. It was dispersed with tear gas as residents set fire to barricades and chanted demands that Mr Maduro leave power.
WHY IS VENEZUELA IN CRISIS?
Venezuela was once one of Latin America’s most prosperous nations.
But the oil-rich country plummeted into crisis under socialist president Nicolas Maduro.
While Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, a fall in prices coupled with corruption and mismanagement under two decades of socialist rule have left the country in chaos.
Most migrants say they are fleeing Venezuela’s imploding economy.
Mr Maduro has dismissed the migration figures as “fake news” created to justify foreign intervention in Venezuela’s affairs.
He has urged his country’s people to “stop cleaning toilets abroad” and return home.
Mr Maduro was re-elected in May in a vote that dozens of foreign governments described as rigged.
But he insists the election was free and fair and says the situation was the result of an “economic war” led by the opposition and business leaders who are arbitrarily raising prices.
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In August, photographs taken by Reuters highlighted the reality of hyperinflation in the socialist dictatorship, where enormous stacks of nearly worthless bolivars were required to purchase basic goods.
A 2.4kg chicken was pictured next to 14,600,000 bolivars at a street market in capital Caracas on August 16. With the current exchange rate, it’s worth just $3.04.
Another photo showed a single roll of toilet paper next to 2,600,000 bolivars, which is worth just 55 cents.
Venezuelans were previously able to enter Colombia and Ecuador using only paper ID cards. About half of those who have made the journey so far don’t have passports.
But obtaining a passport in Venezuela is close to impossible with the country struggling with shortages of paper and ink.
— with wires