POLITICS: PennAve

State Department: Charges of US helping organize Venezuela protests 'baseless, false'

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Politics,White House,John Kerry,National Security,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,State Department,Venezuela,Democracy

The State Department says it has no direct knowledge that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has expelled three American consular officials who had been visiting universities in the country amid several days of student-led protests.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States had not received “formal notification” of any U.S. officials' expulsion.

She also said allegations that the U.S. is helping organize protests in Venezuela are “baseless and false.”

“We support human rights and fundamental freedoms – including freedom of expression and peaceful assembly – in Venezuela as we do in countries around the world,” she said in a statement released Monday afternoon. “But as we have said, Venezuela's political future is for the Venezuelan people to decide. We urge their government to engage all parties in meaningful dialogue.”

Late Sunday, a New York Times report out of Caracas quoted Maduro, a socialist who was elected in April, as saying he had expelled the officials, although he did not identify them or say what they did to prompt the expulsion.

Since the death of Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chavez, in March 2013 and his ascension to the presidency, the new leader has charged the United States with conspiring to force him out of office. The Sunday expulsions mark the third time Maduro has kicked out U.S. officials in a year, according to the New York Times' report.

In March, Maduro expelled the American charge d'affaires and in September forced two other embassy officials to leave. In March, the same day Chavez's death was announced, he kicked out two American military attaches.

Student protestors are rebelling against the Maduro government, taking issue with rising crime, an alleged government crackdown on the news media and increasing crime.

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