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Macron meets with Venezuela leaders one day after activist barred from leaving country

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron met with Venezuela opposition leaders Monday to discuss the embattled nation’s humanitarian and political crisis, two days after a leading activist was barred from leaving the country in order to attend the Paris meeting.

Foreign nations including Spain and the United Kingdom, whose leaders are expected to meet with members of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly this week, have decried the socialist government’s move to bar Lilian Tintori from leaving Venezuela.

In Caracas, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said Monday that he filed complaints with the ambassadors of four foreign nations for purportedly intervening in Venezuela’s affairs after they accompanied Tintori to the airport.

French President Emmanuel Macron waves from his car as he leaves after visiting a school at the start of the new school year in Forbach, eastern France on September 4, 2017.

“These types of expressions are absurd and offensive to the functioning of Venezuelan democracy and its institutions,” Arreaza said.

Julio Borges, president of the National Assembly, and Freddy Guevara, the legislature’s first vice-president, are proceeding with meetings scheduled this week with European leaders aimed at increasing international pressure on President Nicolas Maduro to hold elections, respect a balance of power and allow humanitarian aid.

Borges and Guevara told Macron that Venezuelans are in dire need of basic necessities like food and medicine at the same time that Maduro’s government is stripping away basic civil rights. Borges said Macron asked “several times what he could do to relieve the crisis” and offered the possibility of providing humanitarian aid.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron (R) meets with the President of the Venezuelan parliament, Julio Borges (L) on September 4, 2017 at the Elysee Palace in Paris.

That’s a prospect that Maduro is likely to reject. The Venezuelan leader has routinely refused to accept any foreign assistance, denying the nation is facing a crisis and claiming it could pave the way toward foreign intervention.

“Dozens of countries have offered free food and medicine and it’s unbelievable that the main obstacle is (the) government, the one which is supposed to defend the rights of the Venezuelan people,” Borges said.

Hours after the meeting, Macron’s office issued a statement by the president indicating he was ready to push for European sanctions against Maduro’s administration.

Condemning what he called repression of the opposition, Macron said France was ready to launch European discussions “toward adopting measures targeting those responsible for this situation.” He did not elaborate on what he had in mind.

President of the Venezuelan parliament, Julio Borges, center, leaves the Elysee Palace, after a meeting with France’s President Emmanuel Macron, in Paris, Monday, Sept. 4, 2017.

Tintori, a prominent opposition activist, was scheduled to attend the meeting with Macron but Venezuelan immigration authorities seized her passport Saturday as she prepared to board her flight.

No official explanation has been given for why Tintori was barred from travelling, but it came a day after she was ordered to appear before a judge to answer questions about a large sum of cash found in her vehicle.

Those who did make the trip are also scheduled to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

International pressure on Maduro to hold elections and allow humanitarian aid to enter the country has grown since an all-powerful national assembly that trumps every other branch of government was installed in early August. Dozens of foreign nations have refused to recognize the new legislative body and offered their support to the opposition-controlled congress.

Maduro has refused to change course, decrying the international condemnation as another example of imperial forces meddling in Venezuela’s domestic affairs. He is expected to speak at the Human Rights Council in Geneva next Monday.

Council spokesman Rolando Gomez said Maduro is expected to deliver a speech that will not include a give-and-take discussion session. He said the council is bound by protocol to allow such speeches by high-level dignitaries from U.N. member states.

“Whenever we get requests like this, we have to honour them,” Gomez said.

Borges said Macron told him he “fully supports the National Assembly that we represent … which is the result of the legitimate vote of the Venezuelan people and which must be at the centre of a democratic solution for the country.”

Also Monday two former Spanish presidents met with Venezuelan opposition activists to condemn the continued detention of student Yon Goicoechea, a Spanish and Venezuelan dual citizen. Goicoechea was arrested in August 2016 and accused of carrying explosives.

Former President Felipe Gonzalez said the detention amounts to “the kidnapping of a Spanish citizen.”

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