London (AFP) - Demonstrators chanting "No war on Venezuela!" descended on the Bank of England in London on Thursday, demanding the release of the country's 31 tons of gold deposited there.
Almost a hundred protesters gathered outside the central bank headquarters, which was holding its monetary policy meeting at the time, for the event organised by left-wing group "Venezuela Solidarity Campaign".
"Bank of England, you've been told, give Venezuela back its gold!" they chanted, as one protester wearing a mask of US President Donald Trump stroked two fake gold bars under a large Venezuelan flag.
"Maduro's government is legitimate, it was elected, it's been recognised by most countries of the world," charity worker Robert Miller, 50, told AFP.
"Why doesn't the Bank of England take the money from Saudi Arabia or somewhere else," he added, in reference to the human rights justification for not releasing the gold.
"You can't have the Bank of England declaring what is oppression."
"The gold belongs to the Venezuelan people," said fellow protestor Dominic Hale, a 32-year-old social worker, while his friend Danielle Veal, 30, denounced the pressure exerted by the US, saying it was "about the oil, they are not hiding it."
Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro has been trying for several months to repatriate international gold reserves deposited in London.
The Latin American country currently has about 31 tons of gold worth $1.3 billion in the Bank of England, according to a report published by Natixis.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognised as interim president by around 40 countries, wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May in January asking that Britain not return the gold to the Maduro regime.
The bank, which operates independently of the government, told AFP it would not confirm whether it had taken a decision on the issue.
"Before going ahead with any transaction, the bank needs to be satisfied that the counterparty has the authorisations necessary to request the transaction, that all relevant sanctions are complied with and that there is no evidence that the transaction will involve relevant criminal activity," it said.