Leading opponents of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro have called on France and other EU nations not to recognise elections set for May, saying the vote was simply a sham aimed at consolidating his grip on power.
The country has been gripped by a political and economic crisis for months as Madura has overhauled institutions while sidelining the main opposition coalition, which has been barred from fielding candidates.
"We've come to ask the French government to increase the pressure in order to free Venezuela from the dictatorship," Antonio Ledezma, the exiled mayor of Caracas, told AFP at the start of a tour of European capitals.
"There is a crisis in Venezuela, a humanitarian catastrophe, people starving, people dying due to a lack of medicine," he said.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking yesterday following a meeting with his Argentinian counterpart Jorge Faurie, said France hoped to see "fair and transparent elections".
If there is no progress in that direction, he warned, "France, in conjunction with its European partners, will adopt the additional measures required".
Ledezma and other Venezuelan lawmakers are to meet with advisers to French President Emmanuel Macron, who said in January that he hoped several countries would impose international sanctions against Maduro's government.
But despite international isolation and broad unpopularity, Maduro has shown no sign of wanting to negotiate after moving forward elections to May in a bid for a second six-year term.
Opposition groups, some of which are boycotting the vote, say it will not be a fair contest.
"Fraud is so deeply rooted in all of society that unfortunately Maduro will win these elections with fraud," said Julio Borges, a delegate with the Democratic Unity Roundtable umbrella coalition.
"That's why the most important clamour the world can make is to not recognise the elections of May 20," he told AFP.
The European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions on Maduro and his officials, with Washington calling him a "dictator".
But officials have also expressed concern about penalties that could harm ordinary Venezuelans already suffering from deteriorating living standards in the oil-rich nation.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)