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Venezuela expels top US diplomat, two others

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro talks during a press conference at the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas on September 9, 2013
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro talks during a press conference at the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas on September 9, 2013

President Nicolas Maduro ordered the expulsion of the top US diplomat in Venezuela and two other embassy officials Monday, accusing them of plotting acts of sabotage with the opposition.

Maduro gave charge d'affaires Kelly Keiderling, who has held the post since 2011, and the two other diplomats 48 hours to leave the country.

"Yankees go home, get out of Venezuela!" the leftist leader said in a public address, adding that he had instructed Foreign Minister Elias Jaua to throw out the three Americans.

The United States and Venezuela have been without mutual ambassadors since 2010, making Keiderling the most senior US diplomat in Caracas.

A US embassy official told AFP that the two other diplomats, Elizabeth Hunderland and David Mutt, work in the mission's political section.

The official said the embassy had yet to receive an official notification of expulsion from the government.

Maduro said the diplomats had met with the "Venezuelan far-right" -- as he calls the opposition -- to finance his opponents and "encourage actions to sabotage the power system and the economy."

Venezuela has endured blackouts for years, and the government has accused the opposition of plotting outages and economic sabotage before.

Earlier this month, Maduro blamed the opposition for causing a major power breakdown that affected 70 percent of the country.

Venezuela has also faced more shortages of food and other basic goods in recent months, which Maduro says is part of an opposition conspiracy to foment protests.

"The actions of the government of Barack Obama do not matter," Maduro said Monday, accusing the US president of fomenting sabotage.

"We will not allow an imperial government to bring money and see how they can stop basic companies and stop the electricity to turn off all of Venezuela."

He said his government had "enough evidence" of the "hostile, illegal and interventionist attitude" of US embassy officials.

Maduro had expelled two US military attaches on March 5, hours before announcing the death of president Hugo Chavez, accusing them of promoting "destabilization projects."

Last June, the two countries agreed to begin discussions aimed at returning ambassadors to Caracas and Washington following a meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Jaua.

But Venezuela broke off the rapprochement in July after the now US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, lumped Caracas with other "repressive regimes."

The president has adopted the anti-US rhetoric of Chavez since his mentor named him as his successor before his death. Maduro won the April 14 election, which opposition candidate Henrique Capriles says was fraudulent.

Last week, Maduro scrapped his plans to take part in the United Nations General Assembly in New York, claiming he had received threats.

After returning from a visit to China, Maduro said last Wednesday that he had received intelligence about two "highly serious provocations," which prompted him to cancel the UN trip.

One of the alleged threats "had been planned against my physical integrity" and another could have involved violence in New York, he charged.

The government said it would present to the UN committee that deals with the world body's operations the claims of "obstacles" put up by the United States to prevent Maduro's visit.

Maduro had also accused the United States of denying him access to its airspace during his flight to China, which the State Department denied.

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