CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Nicolas Maduro announced Monday the expulsion of the top U.S. diplomat in Venezuela and two other embassy officials, alleging they conspired with "the extreme right" to sabotage the economy and power grid.
The U.S. Embassy rejected as unfounded the Venezuelan government's accusations of "a great psychological operation" against it.
Maduro made the announcement during a live TV appearance and said Charge d'Affairs Kelly Keiderling and the two others had 48 hours to leave the country.
"Out of Venezuela," the leftist leader shouted, then added in English: "Yankees go home!"
Maduro said a group of embassy officials that his government had been following for months was "dedicated to meeting with the Venezuelan extreme right, to financing it and feeding its actions to sabotage the electrical system and the Venezuela economy."
"I have proof here in my hands," he said, though he did not offer any details on the diplomats' alleged transgressions.
Foreign Minister Elias Jaua later said on state TV that a protest note had been sent to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with proof of "a great psychological operation" by the American diplomats to "destabilize" Venezuela.
He said the expelled Americans had met with opposition and labor leaders in the southeastern state of Bolivar and with the opposition governor of Amazonas state, Liborio Guarulla. Bolivar is home to troubled state-owned foundries and Venezuela's main hydroelectric plant, while bordering Amazonas is one of just three opposition-governed states.
Expelled with Keiderling, the top embassy official in the absence of an ambassador, were consular officer David Moo and Elizabeth Hoffman, who works in the embassy's political section.
State TV showed photographs and video of the three in Bolivar and Amazonas, including visiting offices of Sumate, an electoral-monitoring group that helped organize a failed 2004 recall vote against Maduro's predecessor and political mentor, the late Hugo Chavez. Jaua accused them of working with Sumate on "the idea" of not recognizing the results of Dec. 8 national elections for mayors and city councils.
"We completely reject the Venezuelan government's allegations of U.S. government involvement in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuela government," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.
It said the recent trip by Keiderling, Moo and Hoffman consisted of "normal diplomatic engagement," adding: "We maintain regular contacts across the Venezuelan political spectrum, including the ruling party."
Venezuela's economy looks increasingly troubled ahead of the Dec. 8 elections. Annual inflation is at more than 45 percent and the government is running short of foreign currency.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, in a tweet, called Monday's expulsions "pure smoke to mask that (Maduro) can't manage the country." He claims Maduro was only able to prevail over him in a close April 14 election through electoral fraud.
The U.S. Republican congressman Marco Rubio of Florida said he was not surprised by the expulsions and predicted looming chaos for Venezuela that would be "sad" for its people.
The oil-rich OPEC member country has been plagued by worsening power outages since 2010. The opposition blames neglect and poor maintenance, while alleging mismanagement and corruption at struggling state-owned aluminum, iron and bauxite foundries in Bolivar.
Maduro blames sabotage by the "extreme right" for the blackouts and food shortages, but has provided no evidence. Like Chavez, he has a history of making unsubstantiated accusations against the United States and his political opponents.
Last week, Maduro said he had canceled a planned trip to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly due to an unspecified U.S. plot.
Since his election, Maduro has claimed five attempts to assassinate him have been foiled. In no instance did he provide evidence.
Venezuela and the United States have been without ambassadors since 2010, when Chavez refused to accept a newly named U.S. ambassador.
The last time Venezuela expelled U.S. diplomats was on March 5, when it ejected two military attaches for allegedly trying to destabilize the nation. That move came several hours before Maduro announced that Chavez had died of cancer.
Chavez governed Venezuela for 14 years, solidifying control of all branches of government as he won solid backing from the poor with generous social spending and blamed the United States for an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow him in 2002.
In recent years, however, Venezuela's woes have been compounded by corruption, rampant violent crime, worsening power outages and increasing shortages of foods and medicines.
At the same time, Maduro's government has been accused by international human rights and press freedom groups of cracking down on free speech and independent media political activity.
Associated Press writers Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, and Luis Alonso Lugo in Washington contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is still viewed as the world's leading economic power in many countries, according to polls in 39 nations by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project. But as the Great Recession has buffeted the U.S. economy, China has gained rapidly in the eyes of the rest of the world, and many say it ultimately will replace America as the world's top global economic force.
In 22 of the 39 nations polled, the U.S. is seen as the top global economy, while China is viewed as having the upper hand in eight countries, including U.S. allies Canada, Britain, Germany and France. Surprisingly, Americans are about evenly divided over which country has the stronger economy, with 44 percent saying China and 39 percent the United States.
Since 2008, the population share that calls China the world's top economy has just about doubled in Spain, Germany and Britain, nearly tripled in Russia, and gained 22 points in France. Of the 20 countries Pew surveyed in both 2008 and 2013, all but two are now significantly more likely to say China is the world's leading economic power.
In 18 of the countries polled, half or more believe China has or will replace the U.S. as the world's top economic force, while majorities in only three believe the U.S. will maintain its top economic position.
The surveys, conducted before news about the NSA's surveillance programs broke, also found that 37 of the 39 countries saw the U.S. as a good steward of individual liberty than a poor one.
Before leaks of classified documents revealed widespread U.S. tracking of Internet communications among people in other countries, many said they were confident President Barack Obama would do the right thing in world affairs, including 88 percent in Germany and 83 percent in France, two allies whose official reactions to the spying program have been broadly negative. Few in those nations think the U.S. gives their countries' concerns much weight when setting foreign policy; just 35 percent in France and half in Germany say America considers their interests at least "a fair amount."
Other findings from the surveys:
— The U.S. is viewed favorably by a majority in 28 of the 38 other nations tracked in the poll, with favorability ratings above 80 percent in Ghana, Senegal and Kenya in Africa, Israel in the Middle East and the Philippines in Asia. America fares worst in the Middle East, where most have an unfavorable opinion in five of seven nations surveyed, including 81 percent with a negative view in Egypt and 70 percent unfavorable in Turkey.
— Among those in nations that receive U.S. economic aid, Egyptians and Pakistanis are more apt to say the assistance is having a negative impact on their country, while other African nations surveyed view such assistance as a positive influence.
— Majorities in just three of the 39 countries say they approve of the U.S. use of drones to target extremists: Israel (64 percent approve), the United States (61 percent approve) and Kenya (56 percent approve).
— More than 9 in 10 in Japan (96 percent) and South Korea (91 percent) say that China's growing military power is a bad thing.
The Pew Research Center interviewed 37,653 respondents in 39 countries from March 2 through May 1, 2013. Interviews were conducted face-to-face or by telephone, depending on the country, and are representative of at least 95 percent of the adult population of each nation except for China and Pakistan, where the samples were disproportionately urban, Argentina, Bolivia, Greece, Indonesia and Malaysia, where some difficult to reach or rural populations were excluded, and the Czech Republic and Japan, where interviews were conducted either by cellular or landline telephone only.