Trudeau speaks with Venezuela's Guaido, praises 'courage and leadership'

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has denied his office intervened in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin engineering firm (AFP Photo/Lars Hagberg)

Ottawa (AFP) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke Sunday with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, praising the "courage and leadership" of the national assembly head whom Ottawa recognizes as interim president, according to a statement.

The phone call comes a day before a meeting of the 14-nation Lima Group -- made up of Canada and Latin American countries -- in Ottawa. Eleven of its members have recognized Guaido.

"The two leaders discussed the importance of the international community sending a clear message regarding the illegitimacy of the Maduro regime and the need to respect the Venezuelan Constitution," a readout of the call from Trudeau's office said.

"Both underscored the importance that free and fair Presidential elections be held. The Prime Minister commended Juan Guaido for his courage and leadership in helping to return democracy to Venezuela and offered Canada's continued support."

Trudeau added that the Lima Group meeting "will consider how the international community can further support the people of Venezuela, including through immediate humanitarian assistance."

Venezuela is in the midst of a power struggle that began on January 21 when a group of soldiers took control of a command post north of Caracas and released a video rejecting the legitimacy of President Nicolas Maduro, who won a second term last May in elections deemed fraudulent by the opposition and many the international community.

Two days later, Guaido stunned the world by proclaiming himself "acting president," pledging a transitional government and free elections.

The opposition's support has been stoked by the parlous state of the economy. Venezuela, once the richest country in in Latin America thanks to its oil revenues, is facing severe shortages of food and medicine, as well as runaway inflation.

In addition to Canada, the United States, France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal and Britain and many Latin American countries, including Colombia and Brazil, have declared support for Guaido.

On the other hand, Russia, China, Turkey and Iran support their ally Maduro.