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Venezuela chief expels US officials amid protests

Published: Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 11:43 a.m. CDT
(AP Photo/Alejandro Cegarra)
A woman affected by tear gas, is helped by a fellow demonstrator after an opposition protest march ended in clashes with the Bolivarian National Guard, in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. Venezuelan security forces backed by water tanks, tear gas and rubber bullets dispersed groups of anti-government demonstrators who tried to block Caracas' main highway Sunday evening.

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Nicolas Maduro's government is giving three U.S. Embassy officials 48 hours to leave Venezuela after Washington came to the defense of an opposition hard-liner accused by Venezuela's leader of responsibility for bloodshed during anti-government protests.

Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said that Breeann Marie McCusker, Jeffrey Gordon Elsen and Kristofer Lee Clark were trying to infiltrate Venezuelan universities under the cover of doing visa outreach. Jaua said all three officials had the rank of vice consul.

Jaua on Monday repeated accusations by Maduro that the U.S. is conspiring with opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez to try to oust the socialist president from power. The U.S. has denied the charges.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that Lopez's arrest would have a "chilling effect" on Venezuelans' right to express themselves freely.

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