Kerry calls on Venezuela to free 'political prisoners'

2016-06-14 20:49
US Secretary of State John Kerry. (Evan Vucci, AP)

US Secretary of State John Kerry. (Evan Vucci, AP)

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Santo Domingo - US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday urged Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government to free "political prisoners," safeguard basic freedoms and address the severe food shortages crippling the country.

Speaking out on what he called the "deeply troubling situation in Venezuela" at the Organisation of American States' general assembly in the Dominican Republic, Kerry urged Maduro's government to "release political prisoners, respect freedom of expression and assembly, (and) alleviate shortages of food and medicine."

Oil-rich Venezuela has slid into a punishing economic crisis as crude prices have crashed over the past two years, threatening Maduro and the socialist economic model he inherited from his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

Short on cash, the import-dependent country is facing dire shortages of food, medicine and basic goods, fuelling growing unrest and an opposition push to call a referendum on sacking Maduro.

Recall referendum

The opposition accuses the authorities of jailing dozens of its leaders and activists for political reasons, a charge the government denies.

Kerry also called on the Venezuelan government to "honour its own constitutional mechanisms" by allowing a "fair and timely recall referendum."

The remarks came a day after Maduro's allies challenged the recall process before the Supreme Court, accusing the opposition of "fraud."

Kerry said the US supported a "national dialogue" to resolve the Venezuelan crisis.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, who was scheduled to meet Kerry later in the day, said he should stay out of Venezuela's business.

"Venezuela's internal matters will be settled by Venezuelans," she fired back in unscheduled remarks after his speech.

Maduro has tense relations with the United States and the Washington-based OAS, which he accuses of conspiring against his government.

T


Read more on:    john kerry  |  nicolas maduro  |  us  |  venezuela

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