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Venezuela Chief Expels U.S. Officials Amid Protests

Three U.S. Embassy officials have been given 48 hours to leave the country.

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    TK
    AFP/Getty Images
    Anti-government students take part in a protest rally in Caracas on February 16, 2014. Supporters and opponents of Venezuela's leftist government have been staging rival rallies amid spiraling discontent at the country's stubborn inflation and shortage of basic goods. Two anti-government protesters and a pro-Maduro demonstrator died in a rally early this week. AFP PHOTO/JUAN BARRETO (Photo credit should read JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images)

    Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government is giving three U.S. Embassy officials 48 hours to leave Venezuela after Washington came to the defense of an opposition hard-liner accused by Venezuela's leader of responsibility for bloodshed during anti-government protests.

    Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said that Breeann Marie McCusker, Jeffrey Gordon Elsen and Kristofer Lee Clark were trying to infiltrate Venezuelan universities under the cover of doing visa outreach. Jaua said all three officials had the rank of vice consul.

    Jaua on Monday repeated accusations by Maduro that the U.S. is conspiring with opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez to try to oust the socialist president from power. The U.S. has denied the charges.

    Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that Lopez's arrest would have a "chilling effect" on Venezuelans' right to express themselves freely.