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UK calls for economic pressure against Maduro, refuses to return Venezuelan gold

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at 10 Downing street in London on January 15, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

Britain has expressed support for economic sanctions against Venezuela amid an ongoing political row in the South American country.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Thursday that tightening economic pressure against Venezuelan "kleptocrats" could force President Nicolas Maduro to accept opposition calls for early elections.

"Targeted sanctions against the kleptocrats who have enriched themselves on the back of the rest of the population who are very poor, that is something I think can be effective," Hunt said ahead of Brexit meeting with counterparts in the European Union (EU).

Earlier this week, the White House announced new economic sanctions against Venezuela’s oil industry, days after the country’s opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself president and urged Maduro to resign.

Washington, London and their allies in the EU have already expressed support for Guaido, who served as the president of the national assembly of Venezuela before proclaiming himself “interim president” of the country.

Hunt spoke to Guaido on Wednesday, telling him “that there are many people in the UK who admire his courage and support what he is doing under the Venezuelan constitution.”

During the call Guaido asked Hunt to convince the EU to support him as Venezuela’s “constitutional” interim president.

Venezuelan gold reserves in UK

The Bank of England holds around $1.2 billion worth of Venezuelan gold for Venezuela, a significant share of the $8 billion reserves held by the country’s central bank.

Maduro’s attempts to return the gold to Venezuela have been blocked upon a request by US officials, who say it should be given to Guaido instead.

Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan told Parliament Monday that it was up to the Bank of England to decide the fate of the Venezuelan gold.

“It is they who have to make a decision on this, but no doubt they will take into account when they do so, that a large number of countries across the world are now questioning the legitimacy of Nicolas Maduro,” he told lawmakers during an emergency question on Venezuela.

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