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Venezuela frees French reporters after media crackdown (3rdlead)

January 31, 2019

Venezuelan authorities on Thursday released two reporters for a French TV show, France’s ambassador to Caracas said on Twitter, as pressure mounted on President Nicolas Maduro to end a crackdown on international journalists.

The reporters for the “Quotidien” programme were among five foreign reporters arrested this week, including one from Spain’s EFE news agency, while covering massive anti-government street protests.

“They are fine and will be leaving Venezuela in the next few hours,” Ambassador Romain Nadal posted, saying the reporters were “relieved and a bit tired”.

Two other journalists, from Chile, have been deported.

France and Spain had demanded the journalists’ release earlier Thursday, as had the EU’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini.

“Our request is for them to be immediately released,” Mogherini said at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in the Romanian capital Bucharest.

The arrests come as political turmoil grips the oil-rich but economically wrecked South American state, with self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido calling on the armed forces to abandon President Nicolas Maduro.

Britain’s foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said in Budapest that he would press his EU colleagues for new sanctions against what he called Venezuelan “kleptocrats” as a way to step up pressure on Maduro.

But no quick decision is expected as the legal basis for any sanctions would take some time to prepare and there are divisions between EU members states on how to respond.

Mogherini reiterated the EU’s call for new elections in Venezuela. The bloc has warned it will “take further actions” if new elections are not called in the coming days.

Several EU states including Spain, Britain, France and Germany have been more explicit, saying they will recognise Guaido as Venezuela’s leader if new polls are not called by Sunday.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.