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US hands bank accounts to Venezuela's Guaido
[WASHINGTON] The United States said Tuesday that it has handed control of Venezuela's bank accounts in the United States to Juan Guaido, the opposition leader whom Washington has recognized as interim president.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed off on the order last week for Mr Guaido to control holdings in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and federally insured banks, the State Department said.
"This certification will help Venezuela's legitimate government safeguard those assets for the benefit of the Venezuelan people," State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement.
The United States has been pressing all countries to part ways with President Nicolas Maduro, a leftist firebrand presiding over a crumbling economy and rising street protests, and recognize Mr Guaido, the head of the National Assembly.
Mr Palladino called on all nations to "take similar steps to protect Venezuela's patrimony from further theft by Maduro's corrupt regime."
Venezuela, which is struggling to provide basic services, has some US$8 billion in foreign reserves around the world.
A major chunk is around US$1.3 billion in gold held by the Bank of England, which Mr Guaido has asked Britain to put under his control.
The United States on Monday announced sanctions against Venezuela's state oil company, further trying to squeeze Mr Maduro's cash-strapped government.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, speaking Tuesday to the Fox Business Network, said that more economic pressure could be coming.
"We will always look at additional sanctions to make sure we protect the assets of the country for the people of Venezuela," he said, while adding that the United States wanted to ensure that medicine and other humanitarian goods can still go through.
Major Latin American powers including Brazil have backed Mr Guaido but Mr Maduro still enjoys economic and political support of Russia and China.