Major European countries threw their weight behind Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido on Saturday, saying they would recognise him as interim president if Nicolas Maduro failed to call elections within eight days.
Britain, Germany, France and Spain all said they would recognise Guaido unless fresh elections were announced.
Venezuela has sunk into turmoil under Maduro with food shortages and daily protests amid an economic and political crisis. Inflation is heading towards 10 million percent this year and three million Venezuelans have already voted with their feet and fled to nieghbouring countries.
Maduro cruised to re-election in May last year amid low turnout and allegations of vote-buying by the government. The domestic opposition, the United States and right leaning Latin American governments declined to recognise the result of the vote.
Guaido proclaimed himself interim president on Wednesday though Maduro, who has led the oil-rich nation since 2013 and has the support of the armed forces, has refused to stand down.
Earlier this week, the United States declared support for Guaido, with Vice President Mike Pence calling Maduro “a dictator with no legitimate claim to power.” Since then, most Latin American nations and Canada have all said they back the 35-year-old opposition leader.
In Friday’s anti-government protests in Venezuela 20 people were reportedly killed.
On Saturday, four European Union states also demanded Venezuela holds free elections.
“The government of Spain gives Nicolas Maduro eight days to call free, transparent and democratic elections,” Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said.
“If that doesn’t happen, Spain will recognise Juan Guaido as interim president in charge of calling these elections.”
French President Manuel Macron sent a tweet echoing Sanchez’s comments almost simultaneously. “Unless elections are announced within eight days, we will be ready to recognise @jguaido as ‘President in charge’ of Venezuela in order to trigger a political process,” Macron said.
A spokeswoman from the German government tweeted the same message shortly after the comments from Madrid and Paris.
And later British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt made a similar call.
Russia, meanwhile, has vowed to support Maduro and back its socialist South American ally and accused the United States of trying to usurp power in Venezuela.
The United States said on Friday it was ready to step up economic measures to drive Maduro from power.
Europe had until now simply called for new elections in the troubled South American country.
Sanchez said Spain’s government on Friday had proposed the 28 countries of the European Union recognise Guaido as interim president.