Lula, Macron condemn blocking of Venezuela opposition candidate

France's President Emmanuel Macron (L) wears the Order of the Southern Cross decoration while posing for a picture with Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia (Ludovic MARIN)
France's President Emmanuel Macron (L) wears the Order of the Southern Cross decoration while posing for a picture with Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia (Ludovic MARIN)

French President Emmanuel Macron and his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Thursday hit out at Venezuela over the exclusion of a key opposition candidate from July elections.

Venezuela's opposition Democratic Unitary Platform (PUD) was this week forced to register an unknown candidate after being unable to sign up Corina Yoris to face off against President Nicolas Maduro, who is seeking a third term in office.

"We very firmly condemn the exclusion of a serious and credible candidate from this process," Macron said at a press conference in Brasilia, at the end of a three-day official visit to Brazil.

Lula there was "no legal or political explanation for banning an opponent from being a candidate."

"I told Maduro that the most important thing to restore normality in Venezuela was to avoid any problems in the electoral process, that the elections be held in the most democratic way possible."

Yoris was already the embattled opposition's Plan B.

PUD leader Maria Corina Machado overwhelmingly won an opposition primary in October last year, but was banned from public office for 15 years by courts loyal to Maduro accused of corruption -- a charge she dismisses as fabricated -- and of supporting sanctions against his government.

So, she tapped Yoris, an 80-year-old university professor, as her stand-in.

However, by the time the deadline struck on Monday, the PUD was unable to access the website to register Yoris.

- 'Betrayal'-

Instead, the coalition managed to slip in the name of a little-known former ambassador, Edmundo Gonzalez Urruti, as a "provisional" candidate who Machado now hopes she will be able to replace.

Another candidate, Manuel Rosales, the governor of the oil-rich province of Zulia and a member of the PUD coalition, also managed to sign up last-minute.

Yoris has slammed his "betrayal" but Rosales said he wanted to avoid the opposition from being left out of the race.

Maduro's government and the opposition signed a deal in Barbados last year mediated by Norway to hold a free and fair vote with international observers present which led to the United States easing sanctions against Venezuela.

The United States has welcomed the more outspoken stance by Lula, who was close to Maduro's mentor Hugo Chavez.

"It's not just the United States that is deeply concerned; our regional partners share this concern," about Venezuela's election, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in Washington on Thursday.

"They need to allow a free and fair election," Miller said, warning of "consequences" if Venezuela did not do so.

The United States has given Venezuela a deadline of April 18 to comply with the Barbados deal or face a snapback of sanctions.

Venezuela's electoral authority condemned the US for its "insolent and false questioning" of the voting process.

The goal is to "discredit one of the most solid institutions of the robust Venezuelan democracy," it said in a statement.

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