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Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro has called on Britain to return "more than 80 tons of gold" reserves deposited in London instead of sending humanitarian aid, in an interview with the BBC.
Venezuela is in the midst of an economic crisis as millions of people face shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicines.
But Maduro refuses to allow in aid sent by the United States to alleviate the crisis.
The socialist leader told the BBC, according to a transcript made public Tuesday, that his country may have gold reserves weighing 80 tons or more deposited at the Bank of England.
Maduro, who faces a challenge to his authority back home from opposition leader Juan Guaido, said the gold is "legally Venezuela's, it belongs to the Central Bank of Venezuela."
Maduro says the US has frozen $10 billion in Venezuelan accounts through its sanctions.
Washington has said it will turn over control of those resources to Guaido once Maduro has been removed from power.
"They should send a convoy with the dollars they've stolen from us," said Maduro, who claims that aid would be a pretext to a foreign intervention.
"Send a convoy with the 80 tons of gold. Let it come, the convoy of money, it's our money. With that we could solve our country's problems."
The government is hamstrung by a serious lack of liquidity, aggravated by US sanctions targeting both regime individuals and the state oil company PDVSA.
Venezuela has spent months trying to repatriate its gold reserves from London.
"I hope there will be respect for international law and the Central Bank of Venezuela," said Maduro, who is under huge international pressure to leave power so self-proclaimed acting president Guaido can set up a transitional government and hold new elections.
"Hopefully justice will prevail and Venezuela won't be expropriated of something it owns," added the socialist leader.
Guaido, who is recognized as Venezuela's true leader by around 50 countries, has asked the British government to ensure the Bank of England doesn't release the gold or other assets held there to Maduro.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is one of the world leaders to have recognized Guaido.
Maduro claims the government needs its foreign assets to alleviate the shortages of food and medicines, which he says is being used by the Washington-backed opposition to paint a picture of a humanitarian crisis to justify a US military intervention.
French corporate and investment bank Natixis claims Venezuela has 31 tons of gold worth $1.3 billion stashed in the Bank of England.