LISBON, Portugal (AP) — A key group of European Union countries endorsed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's interim president on Monday, piling the pressure on embattled President Nicolas Maduro to resign and let the country hold a new presidential election.
Maduro, for his part, stood defiant and accused the United States of preparing a coup in the South American country.
Spain, Germany, France and Britain delivered diplomatic blows to Maduro's rule by publicly supporting Guaido after giving Maduro a Sunday deadline to call a presidential election, which he didn't heed. Sweden, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Lithuania also lined up behind Guaido, the self-declared interim president who also has the support of the United States and many South American nations.
The European countries urged Guaido to hold free and fair elections as soon as possible.
"We are working for the return of full democracy in Venezuela: human rights, elections and no more political prisoners," Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in a televised announcement.
He said Spain, which has a large Venezuelan community, is also working on a humanitarian aid program for Venezuela, where shortages of basic items are acute. Critics of Maduro blame the Venezuelan government's mismanagement for the lack of food and medical supplies.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a visit to Japan on Monday that Guaido "is the legitimate interim president."
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking to France Inter Radio, appealed for an early presidential election that will ensure "the Venezuelan crisis ends peacefully."
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said the election that brought Maduro to power was neither free nor fair and told Swedish broadcaster SVT on Monday that Venezuelans "now must get new, free and fair elections instead."
But Maduro showed no signs of caving in to the pressure and lashed out at the EU and the Trump administration, which has also put pressure on the Venezuelan government by imposing sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports and demanding Maduro's departure.
"I don't accept ultimatums from anybody," Maduro told Spanish TV channel La Sexta in an interview broadcast late Sunday. "Why should the EU be giving ultimatums to a country?"
He added that Venezuela is being "threatened by the biggest powers in the world."
Turning to Washington's role in the Venezuelan crisis, Maduro claimed that "the military option is on (U.S. President) Donald Trump's table."
"The United States wants to return to the 20th century of military coups, subordinate puppet governments and the looting of resources," Maduro said.