US orders non-emergency embassy staff to leave Venezuela

Protesters rally in Caracas in support of Juan Guaido, who the United States says is the legitimate interim president of Venezuela (AFP Photo/Federico PARRA)

Washington (AFP) - The United States on Thursday ordered non-emergency embassy staff to leave Venezuela but refused to comply with a full expulsion demanded by Nicolas Maduro, who Washington says is no longer president.

The State Department mandated the departure of non-emergency US personnel and their family members "based on our current assessment of the security situation in Venezuela," a department spokesman said.

"We have no plans to close the embassy. The United States will maintain diplomatic relations with Venezuela through the government of interim President Guaido, who has invited our mission to remain in Venezuela," he said.

Amid deadly political clashes in the crisis-torn country, the State Department also said that US citizens "should strongly consider departing Venezuela."

Maduro on Wednesday gave US diplomats 72 hours to leave the country after President Donald Trump, backed by major Latin American nations, said the leftist firebrand was no longer Venezuela's legitimate president.

The United States said it was ignoring the order as it had recognized Guaido, the opposition head of the National Assembly, as the interim president.

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview Thursday that Maduro -- to whom the military leadership is still loyal -- bore responsibility for the safety of US diplomats.

"There's no higher priority for the State Department than to keep all the people in our missions safe and secure. And we've made clear to the Maduro regime that it is our expectation that they will be safe and secure," he told conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham.

"What we want to make sure that former president Maduro knows is that he doesn't have the right to make the decision about whether or not we stay there," Pompeo said.

State Department officials have not said how many US personnel remain in Venezuela.

Maduro has also shuttered US missions in the United States.