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European Union extends sanctions on Venezuela for a year

EU says measures 'intended to bring political stability to country' that has seen almost two million flee since 2015.

Maduro

The European Union has extended its sanctions against crisis-hit Venezuela until November 2019, ramping up pressure on President Nicolas Maduro's government.

The bloc had imposed an arms embargo in November 2017 and added various officials to the sanctions list over the course of this year, most recently in June in response to Maduro's re-election during polls marred by an opposition boycott and claims of vote-rigging.

The extension on Tuesday came for what the EU said were human rights violations and undermining of democracy and the rule of law under Maduro.

There was no immediate comment from Venezuela's socialist government.

Financial woes

Once one of Latin America's wealthiest countries, Venezuela has been struggling with a hyper-inflationary economic meltdown in the wake of the crash of oil prices in 2014.

Almost two million people have fled the oil-rich country since 2015 due to chronic food and medicine shortages, according to the United Nations. 

This has resulted in increased pressure and restrictions from neighbouring countries while causing a migration crisis in the region.

The European Council said on Tuesday the decision was taken "in view of the continuing deterioration of the situation in Venezuela".

"These measures are intended to help encourage democratic shared solutions in order to bring political stability to the country and allow it to address the pressing needs of the population," the council said in a statement.

"These targeted measures are flexible and reversible and designed not to harm the Venezuelan population."

'Economic war'

The EU's move comes less than a week after the United States introduced new tough sanctions on Venezuela, targeting its gold sector in particular, and denounced Caracas for being part of a "troika of tyranny" with Cuba and Nicaragua.

Since Maduro took power in 2013 following the death of the country's long-term leader, Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan bolivar has plunged 99.99 percent against the US dollar on the black market and few Venezuelans have access to official exchange rates, which have been controlled since 2003. 

Maduro's predecessor long relied on oil revenues to fund his social programmes but when crude prices crashed from 2014 onwards, Venezuela was left with a hole in its budget. In a turn to the worse, oil production in the country has taken a tumble due in part to a lack of basic equipment.

Maduro blames the crisis on an "economic war" against his country by opponents, including the US, aiming to sabotage his government through sanctions and price-gouging.

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