European leaders give Maduro ultimatum

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Media captionWho’s really in charge in Venezuela? The BBC’s Paul Adams explains

The leaders of Spain, Germany and France have warned Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro he must call elections within eight days – or they will recognise the opposition.

Mr Maduro is under pressure after his rival Juan Guaidó declared himself “acting president” on Wednesday, amid large-scale anti-Maduro protests.

Several countries, including the US, say they back Mr Guaidó as president.

Mr Maduro has accused him of mounting a coup, and cut ties with the US.

President Maduro was sworn in for a second term earlier this month, after polls marred by an opposition boycott and allegations of vote-rigging.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez wrote on Twitter: “Spain has a responsibility to Latin America… we do not seek to change or remove governments, we want democracy and free elections in Venezuela.”

France and Germany also issued similar statements, in what looked like a co-ordinated demand that elections be held in Venezuela.

A UN Security Council meeting on the crisis is also due to be held on Saturday.

Why is Maduro being challenged?

He was re-elected to a second term last year – but the elections were controversial, with many opposition candidates barred from running or jailed.

The National Assembly argues that the presidential position is actually vacant because the election was unfair – and that under the constitution this means that Mr Guaidó, as head of the National Assembly, should take over as acting president instead.

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Media captionThousands attended a rally in Caracas on Wednesday against President Maduro

Tens of thousands have held protests over Venezuela’s economic crisis – including an annual inflation rate that the opposition says reached 1,300,000% last year.

Mr Maduro has so far retained the support of the country’s military, but Mr Guaidó has asked them to “put themselves on the side of the Venezuelan people” and back him instead.

How has the international community responded?

The US, more than a dozen Latin American countries, Canada and the UK have backed Mr Guaidó after he said he was the legitimate president.

On Saturday, the US is expected to demand a UN Security Council statement recognising Venezuela’s National Assembly as the country’s “only democratically elected institution”, Reuters reports.

However Russia, a UN Security Council member, has condemned foreign support for Mr Guaidó, saying it violates international law and is a “direct path to bloodshed”.

China, Mexico and Turkey have also publicly backed Mr Maduro.

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