White House warns against 'harm' to Venezuela opposition leader Guaido

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The US announced sanctions on Venezuela's state-owned oil company, aiming to increase pressure on Mr Maduro to leave office.

The Venezuelan opposition leader challenging Nicolas Maduro's claim to the presidency says he has spoken with U.S. President Donald Trump.

The United States said Tuesday that it has handed control of Venezuela's bank accounts in the United States to Juan Guaido, the opposition leader whom Washington has recognized as interim president. He called the Maduro government an "illegitimate Mafia state" and criticized countries that support him, including Russia, China, Iran and Cuba.

"There's no question that what we're trying to do is cut off the money to the regime that should not be in power, and make sure that President Guaidó has access to funds and has access to the assets of the country, and to make sure we protect these assets for the people of Venezuela", Mnuchin said Tuesday during an interview with FOX Business' Maria Bartiromo.

Maduro's inauguration sparked protests throughout Venezuela.

Without a source of revenue or control of the military, he faces hard odds in assuming leadership of the country, despite support across most of the Western Hemisphere.

As a legislator who also heads the National Assembly, Guaido has immunity from criminal investigation that can be removed only by the Supreme Court. Such prepayment could be in violation of the sanctions, setting the stage for a standoff at the ports. The sanctions will include a freeze on any assets the firm may have in US jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with it.

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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin shares the view of the Venezuelan government that the sanctions are "illegal" and sees them as a tool of unfair competition on part of the United States. The kind of crude that Venezuela exports, known as heavy-sour, is now scarce due to voluntary cuts in OPEC and Canadian output and the impact of American sanctions on Iran.

Russia, which stands by Nicolas Maduro in the ongoing Venezuelan political crisis, will use "all available legal mechanisms" to defend its interests in the Latin American country, in which Russian oil giant Rosneft has invested and extended loans to Venezuela's state oil firm in exchange for crude oil deliveries.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the sanctions completely undermined confidence in an worldwide financial system that is dominated by the U.S.

But U.S. refineries that buy large amounts of Venezuelan oil could suffer.

Russian Federation and China, who are among the countries supporting Maduro's administration and have bankrolled his government, strongly criticized the USA sanctions on Monday.

"Sanctions on Venezuela will lead to the deterioration of conditions of people's lives", Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a news briefing in Beijing.

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