CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Nicolas Maduro announced Monday the expulsion of the top U.S. diplomat in Venezuela and two other embassy officials, alleging they conspired with "the extreme right" to sabotage the economy and power grid.
The U.S. Embassy rejected as unfounded the Venezuelan government's accusations of "a great psychological operation" against it.
Maduro made the announcement during a live TV appearance and said Charge d'Affairs Kelly Keiderling and the two others had 48 hours to leave the country.
"Out of Venezuela," the leftist leader shouted, then added in English: "Yankees go home!"
Maduro said a group of embassy officials that his government had been following for months was "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," he said, though he did not offer any details on the diplomats' alleged transgressions.
Foreign Minister Elias Jaua later said on state TV that a protest note had been sent to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with proof of "a great psychological operation" by the American diplomats to "destabilize" Venezuela.
He said the expelled Americans had met with opposition and labor leaders in the southeastern state of Bolivar and with the opposition governor of Amazonas state, Liborio Guarulla. Bolivar is home to troubled state-owned foundries and Venezuela's main hydroelectric plant, while bordering Amazonas is one of just three opposition-governed states.
Expelled with Keiderling, the top embassy official in the absence of an ambassador, were consular officer David Moo and Elizabeth Hoffman, who works in the embassy's political section.
State TV showed photographs and video of the three in Bolivar and Amazonas, including visiting offices of Sumate, an electoral-monitoring group that helped organize a failed 2004 recall vote against Maduro's predecessor and political mentor, the late Hugo Chavez. Jaua accused them of working with Sumate on "the idea" of not recognizing the results of Dec. 8 national elections for mayors and city councils.
"We completely reject the Venezuelan government's allegations of U.S. government involvement in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuela government," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.
It said the recent trip by Keiderling, Moo and Hoffman consisted of "normal diplomatic engagement," adding: "We maintain regular contacts across the Venezuelan political spectrum, including the ruling party."
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