January 25, 2018 / 3:27 PM / a month ago

Venezuela expels Spanish ambassador after EU sanctions

CARACAS/MADRID (Reuters) - Venezuela said on Thursday it was expelling Spain’s ambassador in response to Spanish “aggressions,” a move that came days after the European Union imposed sanctions on senior officials of President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government.

The decision to declare Jesus Silva Fernandez “persona non grata” came in response to Spain’s “continual aggressions and repeated meddling in the internal affairs of our country,” the Venezuelan government said in a statement.

The EU announced sanctions on seven members of Maduro’s government on Monday for alleged abuses of rights and democracy.

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy leaves his office before his meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (unseen) at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain January 25, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Spain was one of the main promoters of the sanctions.

Foes accuse Maduro of turning the OPEC nation into a dictatorship, while he says he is the victim of a U.S.-led right-wing conspiracy to eliminate socialism.

Maduro let rip at Spain’s conservative prime minister this week. “Mariano Rajoy, get on all fours, my friend, because the people are going to slap you,” he told a rally of supporters in Caracas.

Rajoy hit back, saying the EU sanctions were fully-deserved and were in fact “light” given Maduro’s attitude to democracy.

Speaking in Davos, Switzerland, Spain’s Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said his government rejected accusations of interference, lamented the measure against its envoy, and would take “proportionate reciprocal” action. He gave no more details, according to comments carried on local radio.

Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne in Caracas, Rodrigo de Miguel and Emma Pinedo in Madrid; Editing by Susan Thomas and Paul Simao

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