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US calls for referendum on Venezuela's Maduro to go forward

Washington's top diplomat has urged Caracas to release political prisoners and respect freedom of expression. Venezuela's socialist government has accused the US of waging an "economic war" against the country.

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday called for the Venezuelan government to "honor its own constitutional mechanisms" by allowing a "fair and timely recall referendum."

Venezuelan opposition groups have led a nation-wide campaign to force Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro out of office, collecting over 1.8 million signatures to formally start the recall process.

Maduro vowed on Saturday to push the referendum back to next year if all legal requirements are met, a move which would allow his vice president to assume the presidency. However, a vote this year would automatically prompt new elections.

Kerry called for Caracas to "release political prisoners, respect freedom of expression and assembly, (and) alleviate shortages of food and medicine."

Washington is committed to working with other Organization of American States (OAS) members to address the "deeply troubling situation in Venezuela," Kerry said during his opening speech for the general assembly in the Dominican Republic.

'Washington's payroll'?

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez shot back at Kerry's comments during the general assembly, saying: "Venezuela's internal matters will be settled by Venezuelans."

"I see now this is ordered by Washington. I know they are on Washington's payroll to meddle in the domestic affairs of Venezuela," Rodriguez said, in an apparent reference to opposition lawmakers.

Maduro's socialist government blames the country's worsening economic situation on a Washington-led "economic war."

In May, the Venezuelan president extended the government's emergency powers for an additional three months, citing efforts to "recover the country's productive capacity."

Watch video 01:36

Venezuela's search for food | DW Business

ls/bw (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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