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Venezuela recalls envoy to US after Obama orders sanctions

Caracas has recalled its envoy to Washington after US President Barack Obama declared Venezuela a national security threat. Obama also imposed sanctions on individuals, claiming they had violated human rights.

Venezuela Caracas Maduro

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said on Monday that his country was calling in its top diplomat to Washington for "immediate consultations," after sanctions were imposed by Obama.

Rodriguez tweeted that the Venezuelan government was calling in Maximilien Sanchez, who is the South American country's business attaché and charge d'affaires to the US.

The US had earlier imposed sanctions against seven individuals involved in cracking down on the opposition, alleging human rights violations and economic corruption.

"Venezuelan officials past and present who violate the human rights of Venezuelan citizens and engage in acts of public corruption will not be welcome here, and we now have the tools to block their assets and their use of US financial systems," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

"We are deeply concerned by the Venezuelan government's efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents. Venezuela's problems cannot be solved by criminalizing dissent," Earnest added.

Obama ordered the freezing of US properties and bank accounts of seven officials in the upper echelons of the Venezuelan security apparatus. Those hit included the director general of the intelligence service and the director of the national police.

Also targeted was a prosecutor who

charged Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezema

over an alleged coup plot.

Slumping economy, elevated rhetoric

A statement from the US government also said the current situation in Venezuela meant it posed an "unusual and extraordinary threat" for the security of the US.

With Venezuela's economy in a deep slump two years after the death of President Hugo Chavez, his successor, President Nicolas Maduro, has notched up anti-US rhetoric.

Maduro's government recently ordered that the number of officials at the American embassy should be reduced from 100 to 17 by March 17. It also

began to require visas for US travelers

.

Regional allies leapt to Venezuela's defense on Monday, with Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino warning that the South American bloc UNASUR was not prepared to allow foreign intervention or a coup in Venezuela.

rc/gsw (AFP, dpa, Reuters, EFE)

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