Pompeo says all US diplomats have left Venezuela as crisis deepens

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Many European Union member countries are among 50 nations, including the United States, which are backing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido against embattled President Nicolas Maduro.

James Story, who was the top-ranking USA diplomat in Venezuela, said in a video message that most Venezuelans don't support Maduro and that the government had used "the threat of armed gangs" against its people. He added, the USA will resume its presence in the country "once the transition to democracy begins", though he declined to offer a specific timeline.

Pompeo tweeted earlier this week that the diplomats would be withdrawn because they had become a "constraint" on U.S. policy. The U.S. flag outside the embassy had been taken down.

The Venezuelan government disputed Pompeo's account, saying it had instructed the U.S. diplomats to leave.

Pompeo said the diplomatic staff would continue from outside Venezuela to work for its future, help manage the flow of humanitarian assistance and support those "bravely resisting tyranny".

He said the U.S. remains committed to supporting opposition leader Juan Guaido, who wants to remove Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and hold elections. Maduro, the incumbent president who is hanging on to power despite shortages of food, water and electricity, says he is the victim of a coup plot by the United States.

Power was restored Thursday after a weeklong blackout that Maduro blamed on the United States. Since Monday, the US has revoked 340 visas, 107 of which were for Venezuelan diplomats and their families, according to Palladino. Meanwhile, Venezuela's attorney general Tarek William Saab announced on Tuesday that he had launched an investigation into opposition leader Juan Guaidó over suspicions that he had been involved in the power blackout. But he was remarkably complimentary of the charge d'affaires, James "Jimmy" Story, whom he described as professional, though he said they had not met.

Maduro tried Tuesday to send a group of his relatives to Colombia, but Colombian authorities stopped them at the border, saying they do not recognize Maduro as president and will now allow his family to flee the discomfort suffered by other Venezuelans.

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