Venezuela crisis: Maradona defends President Maduro

Argentine football hero Diego Maradona defended Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday over a deadly political crisis in which the socialist leader’s opponents have branded him a dictator.

World Cup winner Maradona, 56, was a friend of Maduro’s late predecessor Hugo Chavez and joined in his anti-US “Bolivarian” socialist rhetoric.

“We are Chavistas to the death. When Maduro gives an order, I will serve as a soldier for a free Venezuela, to fight against imperialism,” Maradona wrote in a message on Facebook.

Chavez won admirers abroad for welfare policies for the poor. But under Maduro, Venezuela’s economy has collapsed and a violent political struggle has broken out.

“Long live Chavez. Long live Maduro. Long live the revolution,” Maradona wrote.

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“Long live the true Venezuelans, not the ones who are serving their own interests and those of the right-wing.”

Maduro’s rivals accuse him of tearing up democracy to cling to power in the oil-rich country. He says he is the victim of a US-backed capitalist plot.

The United Nations on Tuesday accused Venezuelan authorities of using “excessive force” against protesters.

Foreign ministers from Latin America and Canada were due to meet to discuss action to further isolate Maduro’s government.

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