The Venezuelan government hit back at European countries which on Monday recognised President Nicolas Maduro’s rival, opposition leader, Juan Guaido, as interim president.
Messrs Maduro and Guaido have been battling for legitimacy in a struggle that has drawn in the world’s major powers on one side or the other.
“I swear … that I will defend with my life this fatherland under threat,” Maduro said at an event in Aragua State in the north, commemorating the 27th anniversary of a failed coup by his late predecessor Hugo Chavez.
Germany, France, Britain and Spain were among the EU states to officially endorse Guaido and call for fresh elections in crisis-hit Venezuela.
“The Bolivarian republic of Venezuela expresses its most energetic rejection of the decision by some European governments, which officially submit to the strategy of the U.S. administration to topple the government,” Foreign Minister, Jorge Arreaza, tweeted.
“Once more, they follow behind Washington,” he added.
Venezuela will reconsider its bilateral relations with European countries which recognised Mr Guaido, said the government, which has already broken off diplomatic relations with the U.S.
Mr Maduro accused Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, of having taken “a terrible decision” in recognising Mr Guaido.
“If a military coup took place in Venezuela, Mr Pedro Sanchez, your hands will forever be stained with blood,” he said.
The president also announced a campaign to collect signatures against U.S. “interventionist acts” starting on Wednesday and said they would be handed over to the White House.
“I call on the Venezuelan people to sign … at all the barracks, factories, schools,” Mr Maduro said.
The international pressure on Venezuelan leader Mr Maduro intensified on Monday as a host of EU nations declared his rival Mr Guaido as interim president.
“It is only the Venezuelan people that has to decide their future,” Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, said in a statement.
“Venezuela has to be the master of its own destiny, and it is up to the international community to help and respect the outcome of the democratic process and verify that it takes place with all necessary guarantees,” he said.
Last week, several EU nations gave Mr Maduro an eight-day deadline to announce new elections or they would recognise Guaido as the country’s leader.
After the cut-off point was reached on Sunday, European capitals began making announcements on Monday morning.
“By yesterday there was no call for presidential elections, therefore, Guaido is the person ….
“We expect to initiate an election process as quickly as possible and for this task he is the legitimate interim president in the view of Germany and many European partners,” German Chancellor, Angela Merkel said.
A joint EU statement was notably missing on Monday, however.
Italy was blocking agreement on such a statement, diplomatic sources said, due to a split in opinion in the coalition government.
The Five Star Movement was concerned that Maduro’s departure could affect Italy’s ties to countries such as Libya, Afghanistan or Iraq.
The far-right League is, however, keen to see Maduro leave office.
Russia, one of Maduro’s most powerful foreign backers, having provided billions of dollars of credit to his government in recent years, denounced the diplomatic pressure as “meddling in Venezuela’s internal affairs.”
Such intervention “does not contribute in any way to a peaceful, effective and vital settlement to the crisis that Venezuelans are enduring,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in comments carried by state news agency TASS.
Other EU states to support Mr Guaido include Austria, the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Portugal.
They join the U.S., Canada, Australia and a host of Latin American powers, including Brazil and Argentina.
Mr Guaido, the leader of the National Assembly, declared himself interim head of state on January 23.
On Monday, Guaido said the EU needed “to act in unison so that the forces, who are still supporting Maduro feel all the weight of Europe’s diplomatic and political pressure.”
“We are in permanent contact with the governments of Spain, France, the United Kingdom and Germany.
They showed the most solidarity towards us and they are constantly monitoring events in Venezuela. Their support for us has been fundamental,” he said.
On Monday, Maduro said he had written to Pope Francis, urging him to play a mediating role.
“I ask the pope to offer his best efforts, his will, to help us on this path of dialogue. I hope we will have a positive answer [from him],” Mr Maduro told Italian news channel SkyTg24.
Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have turned out in recent protests to demand Mr Maduro’s exit, although he appears to have the support of the nation’s powerful military and security services.
He is also backed by Russia, China, Turkey, Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua.