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Venezuela shuts off Spanish-language CNN over Iraq report

Venezuela's government has ordered CNN in Spanish off the air, accusing it of spreading "propaganda." The news came after CNN reported that government workers sold fraudulent passports at the country's embassy in Iraq.

The US-based "CNN en Espanol" shut off in Venezuela on Wednesday just hours after officials criticized one of its reports about an alleged visa racket.

The state National Telecommunications Commission announced it ordered "the immediate suspension of broadcasts" because of news stories that it considered "direct aggressions" against Venezuela, a government statement said.

Earlier in the day, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said the government requested that authorities take action against "CNN en Espanol" because of the "damage" it caused the country. She specifically criticized one story the channel did on passport fraud.

Elyangelica Gonzalez, a journalist in Venezuela posted a video on Twitter of the moment CNN was taken off the air.

Critical report 'based on falsehoods'

On February 6, CNN aired a report based on a whistleblower's allegations that Venezuelan passports and visas had been sold at the country's embassy in Baghdad to people of Middle Eastern origin - including some who the channel claimed may have been linked to terrorist groups.

Watch video 00:29

US sanctions Venezuelan Vice President

Foreign Minister Rodriguez said the CNN report was "based absolutely on falsehoods."

In a statement, CNN said it stood by its reporting on the story and that the government's decision to bar the channel denies Venezuelans access to the network's news and information.

"At CNN en Espanol, we believe in the vital role that freedom of press plays in a healthy democracy," the company said.

They added that its signal would be available for free on YouTube.

Maduro wants 'no problems with Trump'

The contested CNN report identified Vice President Tareck El Aissami as one of the people behind the racket. The hardline former interior minister is next in line after President Nicolas Maduro should the opposition succeed in its bid to oust Maduro.

On Monday, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on El Aissami and one of his allies, accusing him of playing a major role in international drug trafficking. He has also been known to US authorities for allegedly supporting Middle Eastern militant groups including Hezbollah.

Venezuelan officials have reacted furiously to the sanctions, but appear to be avoiding provoking the US president.

"I don't want problems with Trump," Maduro said on TV on Wednesday, adding that CNN had become "an instrument of war."

Shortly after "CNN en Espanol" went off air, Trump called for the release of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. The US president tweeted a picture of himself meeting with Lopez' wife, Lilian Tintori.

Lopez, the founder of Popular Will, one of the most hardline of the parties opposing Maduro, is serving a 14-year prison term on charges of inciting unrest at deadly anti-government protests in 2014.

rs/kl (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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