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Last remaining US diplomats leave Venezuela

Last remaining US diplomats leave Venezuela

"I know it is a hard moment for them", US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Thursday.

"We look forward to resuming our presence once the transition to democracy begins".

The last remaining American diplomats in Venezuela left the country on Thursday, amid deteriorating ties between Washington and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Venezuela later allowed a skeletal staff to remain at the hilltop U.S. Embassy until Thursday's withdrawal.

This Sept. 12, 2008 photo shows the US embassy in Caracas, Venezuela. The United States and 54 other countries have recognized Guaido Venezuela's interim president.

The giant USA flag was lowered at the sprawling hillside embassy shortly before the roughly 20 diplomatic personnel left for the airport Thursday morning. Faced with questions about the recognition amounting to only a quarter of the world's countries, the State Department has repeatedly argued that the number doesn't matter, because the countries that sided with the U.S. are "democracies" and that is supposed to count for more somehow. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters that the US has revoked more than 600 visas from Venezuelans since late past year.

He said the USA remains committed to supporting opposition leader Juan Guaido, who wants to remove Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and hold elections. Palladino urged any USA citizens left in Venezuela to leave.

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James Story, who was the top-ranking USA diplomat in Venezuela, said in a video message that most Venezuelans don't support Maduro and that the government had used "the threat of armed gangs" against its people.

Maduro blamed the blackouts on alleged sabotage engineered by the USA and the Venezuelan opposition.

The New York Times on Thursday quoted Palladino saying, "We hold former President Maduro and those surrounding him fully responsible for the safety and welfare of interim president Juan Guaido and his family".

The Venezuelan government said on Tuesday that some electricity has returned in some areas, Associated Press reports.

Morales, who is on a visit to Greece, said meddling in the domestic affairs of another country never bodes well.

The move has put Venezuela at the heart of a geopolitical tussle, with the United States leading most Western nations in recognizing Guaido as the legitimate head of state, while Russia, China and others support Maduro.