Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela leader Nicolas Maduro slams US sanction threat

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivers a speech during the commemoration of the 190 years of the Battle of Ayacucho in Caracas on 9 December, 2014. Image copyright AFP
Image caption President Nicolas Maduro warned the US not to go down "the crazy path of sanctions"

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has called US senators "insolent" for passing a bill which would impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials found to have violated protesters' rights.

He said the US wanted to "challenge Venezuela with sanctions and threats".

Thousands of activists who took part in anti-government protests which erupted across the Latin American country in February were arrested.

Relations between Venezuela and the US have been tense for years.

'Imperialist sanctions'

The House of Representatives passed a similar bill in May.

It will now have to be reconciled with the Senate version, and if passed, will be sent to President Barack Obama.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Senator Robert Menendez, who sponsored the bill, said it was an "unequivocal message" to the Venezuelan government

Mr Maduro warned the US leader: "If the crazy path of sanctions is imposed, President Obama, I think you're going to come out looking very bad."

"Who is the US Senate to sanction the homeland of Bolivar?" he asked, referring to the 19th-Century Venezuelan independence leader.

"We don't accept insolent imperialist sanctions," he added.

Deadly protests

The US Senate on Monday approved the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mass protests erupted in Venezuela earlier this year, some of which turned deadly

The bill targets current and former Venezuelan officials who directed "significant acts of violence or serious human rights abuses against persons associated with the anti-government protests in Venezuela that began on 4 February".

More than 40 people from both sides of the political divide were killed in the anti-government protests which took place in Venezuela between February and May.

The United Nations condemned "all violence by all sides in Venezuela" and called on the government "to ensure that people are not penalised for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and to freedom of expression".

The government said opposition leaders had incited protesters to violence and had been planning a coup against the government of President Maduro.

The opposition said its activists had been unfairly targeted for their political convictions.

At the height of the protests in February, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was arrested. He has been charged with inciting violence.

And last week, Venezuela's chief prosecutor launched an investigation into leading opposition politician Maria Corina Machado over an alleged plot to assassinate President Maduro.

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