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Venezuela’s Maduro breaks diplomatic links with Panama

Venezuela’s President, Nicolas Maduro, has broken diplomatic relations and frozen economic ties with Panama.

The decision comes after the Central American nation requested a meeting at the Organization of American States (OAS) to discuss Venezuela’s crisis.

Mr Maduro was speaking to other Latin American heads of state at events to mark the first anniversary of the death of the leader Hugo Chavez.

At least 18 people have died in street protests in the last three weeks.

“I’ve decided to break political and diplomatic ties with the current government of Panama and freeze all trade and economic relations from this moment on,” Mr Maduro told the presidents of Cuba, Raul Castro, Uruguay, Jose Mujica, and Bolivia, Evo Morales, among other leaders gathered around the tomb of Mr Chavez.


Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli expressed surprise at Venezuela’s decision.

“Panama only hopes that this brother nation finds peace and strengthens its democracy,” Mr Martinelli wrote on Twitter.

Continue reading the main story

At the scene

image of Irene CaselliIrene CaselliBBC News, Caracas

It has been a day of celebrations – but also protests.

On the one side of the capital, supporters of the government wore red during a military parade. They also gathered around the hilltop military headquarters where Hugo Chavez’s remains lie.

The Cuartel de la Montana had a great significance for Chavez. That is where he led the 2002 coup that launched his political career.

At 16:25 local time, the whole of Caracas resounded with cannon fire and fireworks to mark the exact time of Chavez’s death.

On the other side of the city, protesters remained in the streets, vowing not to leave until President Nicolas Maduro resigns.

Barricades blocked several streets. As cannon fire resounded, banging of pots and pans could be heard in the eastern part of the city, an anti-government stronghold where protests have turned violent every night.

Last week, the government of Panama requested an urgent meeting of OAS member-states to discuss the unrest in Venezuela.

Venezuelans have long been complaining about high levels of crime, record inflation and shortages of staple items.

But in the last three weeks marches initially started by disgruntled students in the western states of Tachira and Merida spread to other areas and gained support.

On Wednesday, the OAS said a meeting would take place the next day behind closed doors to decide whether or not to convene the region’s Foreign ministers over the issue.

Mr Maduro accused the Panamanian government of conspiring to bring down his government.

“There are moves by the United States government in accord with a lackey government of a right-wing president which has been creating the conditions for the OAS and other bodies to step towards an intervention in our country,” Mr Maduro said.

The Venezuelan president also criticised OAS President Jose Miguel Insulza, who had suggested earlier that a group of observers could be sent to Venezuela – if its government and the opposition found it useful.

Panama's President Ricardo MartinelliPanama’s President Martinelli said he was surprised by Mr Maduro’s decision to break ties

“Don’t intervene in Venezuelan home affairs,” was Mr Maduro’s message to Mr Insulza.

Earlier, thousands of government supporters and troops marched through Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, in a celebratory parade.

Some opposition demonstrators staged more protests around Caracas and some other cities despite appeals by their leaders to respect the date.

The Venezuelan government has been accusing the United States of being behind the recent wave of protests.

Last month, it expelled three diplomats under allegations of orchestrating student protests.


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