Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has announced the expulsion of the top US diplomat in Caracas along with other embassy staff. The leader accused Washington of seeking to sabotage the economy and electrical system.
In an impassioned appearance on live television on Monday, Maduro told three US embassy staff that they had 48 hours to leave the country for "violating international law."
"Out of Venezuela," Maduro shouted, before adding in English: "Yankees go home!"
Maduro alleged that the diplomats had met opposition and labor leaders in the southwestern state of Bolivar, where a number of state-owned foundries and Venezuela's largest electric power plant are located.
The president named the alleged culprits as Charge D'Affaires Kelly Keiderling, who is the principal US diplomat in the country, consular officer David Moo, and Elizabeth Hoffman, an official in the embassy's political section.
Maduro, who took office after the death of his predecessor Hugo Chavez in March this year, claimed that the group were "dedicated to meeting with the Venezuelan extreme right, to financing it and feeding its actions to sabotage the electrical system and the Venezuela economy."
"I have proof here in my hands," Maduro claimed. State television showed footage of the three American officials meeting a mayor in Bolivar as well as visiting the offices of electoral monitoring group Sumate.
"I don't care what actions the government of Barack Obama takes," said Maduro.
"We're not going to permit an imperialist government to come and bring money and see how essential companies can be halted and see how to take away electricity and shut down all of Venezuela."
Embassy rejects conspiracy claims
In a statement, the US embassy in Caracus said the three officials had been involved in "normal diplomatic engagement."
"We completely reject the Venezuelan government's allegations of US government involvement in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuela government," the embassy said.
Oil-rich Venezuela is struggling with worsening power cuts since 2010, with the opposition blaming neglect and poor maintenance.
In a tweet, opposition leader Henrique Capriles called the expulsions "pure smoke to mask that (Maduro) can't handle the country."
Venezuela last expelled US diplomats on March 5, only hours before Maduro, as acting president, announced Chavez's death.
rc / ch (AP, AFP, Reuters)