VENEZUELA – President Maduro expels top US diplomat, deputy

(CNS) – President Nicolas Maduro expelled the top U.S. diplomat in Venezuela and his deputy Tuesday for allegedly conspiring against the socialist government and trying to sabotage the weekend presidential election.

“The empire doesn’t dominate us here,” Maduro said in a televised address, giving charge d’affaires Todd Robinson and his deputy, Brian Naranjo, 48 hours to leave the country. “We’ve had enough of your conspiring.”

Tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela have mounted following Maduro’s victory in presidential election Sunday, a vote that the White House and others have branded a “sham.”

Maduro said in his speech that Robinson and Naranjo, whom he referred to as the head of the CIA in Venezuela, both personally pressured several anti-government presidential aspirants not to compete in the race. Despite widespread discontent over Venezuela’s economic collapse, most opposition parties decided to boycott the election after officials blocked their most popular leaders from competing against Maduro.

Maduro also accused the Trump administration, which toughened financial sanctions on his government Monday, of seeking to escalate “aggressions” against the Venezuelan people. U.S. officials have also said the administration might consider imposing oil sanctions on Venezuela.

“The dominant and decisive reason why the opposition progressively withdrew from the elections was the decision by the extremist U.S. government to not validate or legitimize a presidential election that they knew fully was going to be won in any scenario by the candidate of Nicolas Maduro,” the president said.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said U.S. officials “completely reject the false allegations” that Maduro made about the two diplomats. Neither Robinson nor the U.S. Embassy in Caracas responded to requests for comment by The Associated Press.