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US pulls remaining staff from Venezuela as Maduro urges 'resistance'

media Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a broadcast at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela March 11, 2019. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS

US diplomats have begun leaving their embassy in Venezuela's capital, Caracas, following US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's announcement that their presence had become a "constraint on US policy."

The move underscores the worsening conditions in Venezuela, amid a devastating blackout and fresh protests planned.

"This decision reflects the deteriorating situation in Venezuela as well as the conclusion that the presence of US diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on US policy," Pompeo wrote Monday on Twitter.

The move is a setback for the Trump administration, which had vowed to keep diplomats in the country to legitimise opposition leader Juan Guaido after President Nicolas Maduro cut diplomatic ties with the United States in January.

It comes amid a devastating blackout that has left millions without power for five days.

Maduro meanwhile has called for grassroots groups to hit back against what he called attacks encouraged by the US against the country's electrical grid.

"The time has come for active resistance," he said in a speech.

His opposition challenger Guaido is also calling for resistance.

In a speech to the National Assembly which he leads, he said "tomorrow at three o'clock in the afternoon, all of Venezuela will be on the streets" to protest against Maduro.

Alarming situation

Parliament accepted the 35-year-old's request to declare a "state of alarm" to pave the way for the delivery of international aid, 250 tonnes of which has been stuck for a month at Venezuela's borders with Colombia and Brazil.

Guaido and the opposition-controlled legislature have no means to enforce it, though, as Maduro controls the military and security services, which are currently preventing aid from entering the country.

Guaido, recognised as Venezuela's interim president by more than 50 countries, called on the military and security services to "refrain from preventing or hindering" Tuesday's protests.

Describing the situation as a "catastrophe", he said the blackout – the worst in the Latin American country's history – had claimed dozens of lives since it began last Thursday.

Speaking in a televised address, Maduro called the outage an "electric coup" carried out by "criminal minds." Maduro blamed "the imperialist government of the United States" for "ordering this attack," but offered no proof for the charge.

Power was restored to some areas of the country over the weekend but, with residents and businesses fearing that refrigerated food would spoil, service was patchy and power often lasted just a few hours before dropping out again.

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