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Seven Venezuelan officials targeted by US

(BBC)…The US has targeted at least seven Venezuelan officials with sanctions for alleged human rights violations.

Those named, including the head of police, will have assets frozen and be blocked from doing business with American firms or travelling to the US.

The White House said in a statement it was “deeply concerned” by the Venezuelan government’s efforts to intimidate political opponents.

Tensions between the US and Venezuela have been on the rise.

Last week, Venezuela gave the US two weeks to significantly cut its diplomatic mission in the country.

In the latest episode on Monday, the White House called on Venezuela to release all political prisoners, including “dozens of students” and warned against blaming Washington for its problems.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro attends a ceremony commemorating the 2nd anniversary of the death of the late president Hugo Chavez at the 4F military fort in Caracas 5 March 2015The officials sanctions include several officials from President Maduro’s security and defence apparatus

Spokesman Josh Earnest said the Venezuelan government had tried to distract from “its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela”.

Venezuela’s foreign minister, Delcy Rodriguez, said the country would “soon make public Venezuela’s response to these declarations”.

Ms Rodriguez told reporters that her country will insist on a relationship with the US that is “based on respect and sovereign equality”.

The South American country was hit by major protests last year in which dozens were killed and more than 3,000 arrested in a wave of anti-government sentiment.

Venezuelan opposition leader, former legislator Maria Corina Machado (C), participates in a march called by the opposition to demand the annulment of a norm that allows Armed Forces to use force to control demonstrations, in Caracas, Venezuela, 08 March 2015Venezuelan opposition leader Maria Corina Machado Maria Corina Machado has led protests

Support for President Nicolas Maduro has dropped sharply amid an economic crisis marked by shortages and high inflation.

The officials sanctioned include the director general of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Intelligence Service and director of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Police.

The White House argues the officials were instrumental in human rights violations, persecution of political opponents and significant public corruption.

One of those named is Antonio Jose Benavides Torres, the former director Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard’s, whom the US said “used force against peaceful protestors and journalists, including severe physical violence, sexual assault, and firearms”.

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