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Brutal repression’ of Venezuelan people ‘must end,’ Trump says as Lavrov, Pompeo agree to meet next week

President Trump speaks to members of the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, before boarding Marine One helicopter, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. (Star Tribune/TNS/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. President Donald Trump has appealed for a swift end to the “brutal repression” of the Venezuelan people, after U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido’s call for a military uprising appeared to fall short.

“The brutal repression of the Venezuelan people must end, and it must end soon,” Trump said as he hosted a national day of prayer service at the White House on May 2.

“People are starving. They have no food they have no water, and this was once one of the wealthiest countries in the world,” Trump said.

Trump’s call came as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed to meet next week to discuss the situation in Venezuela after the two sides clashed over how to deal with unrest in the South American country.

U.S. officials said on May 2 that the two diplomats would discuss “a broad range of issues” when they attend an Arctic Council meeting starting on May 6 in the northern Finnish city of Rovaniemi.

The announcement came hours after Lavrov rejected statements by U.S. officials that Moscow had convinced Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro to remain in the country amid protests against his rule.

“We’ve agreed to continue our contacts, including those on Venezuela, but I can’t see how you can align, on the one side, our position based on the UN Charter and principles and norms of international law, and on the other, that of the U.S., which has appointed an acting president of another country from Washington,” Lavrov told journalists in Tashkent on May 2.

“These positions are incompatible, but we stand ready to talk,” he added.

Venezuelan National Guard troops on May 1 fired tear gas at protesters who attempted to block a highway close to an air base in eastern Caracas where opposition leader Juan Guaido had called for a military uprising against Maduro.

In an April 30 interview with CNN, Pompeo claimed that Maduro was ready to leave his troubled country for exile in Cuba but was persuaded by Russia to remain.

That assertion was rejected immediately by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who said Pompeo’s statement was part of an “information war.”

Russia, Iran, China, and Cuba are among countries supporting Maduro, who started a second term in January following a May 2018 election marred by an opposition boycott and claims of vote-rigging, leading to mass street protests.

Russia, which has substantial economic ties to Maduro’s government, sent planes to Venezuela in March, carrying nearly 100 military personnel who the U.S. government believes included special forces and cybersecurity experts to Venezuela.