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EU Presidential Candidate Assails Tsipras Support of Maduro

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Manfred Weber who heads the European Parliament's biggest group, delivers a speech during a European People's Party (EPP) Group Bureau Meeting in Athens, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. (AP Photo)

ATHENS - A leading candidate to become President of the European Commission said Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras should fall in line with the bloc’s demand for free and fair elections and stop backing Venezuelan strongman President Nicos Maduro.

German politician Manfred Weber, who heads the European Parliament's largest center-right group that is aligned with Greece’s major opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said it was "a tragedy to see how the Greek government is now behaving on (a) European level."

The Radical Left SYRIZA leader reportedly adores Maduro’s style, which has included trying to crush dissent and barring opponents from challenging him, with Tsipras’ party praising what it called Venezuela’s “Bolivarian democracy.”

The United States recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaido, who said Maduro’s re-election last May was fraudulent, and the EU has given a deadline for new elections, a move opposed by Tsipras and SYRIZA, who have locked arms with their Leftist comrade.

Visiting Athens where he met with Mitsotakis, Weber said Tsipras is "blocking initiatives on a European level" that would support those "fighting for a democratic Venezuela,” according to Kathimerini. Mitsotakis’ party has a big lead in polls with elections this year and if he and Weber both ascend it would give Greece a top ally at the EU’s highest level.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president last month, saying President Nicolas Maduro's re-election in May was fraudulent. The United States and a number of European Union countries have backed Guaido, but Greece's governing Syriza party has expressed its "full support and solidarity" for Maduro.

Weber is running in May 23-26 European elections to succeed his EPP Christian Democrat party colleague Jean-Claude Juncker to run the European Commission. He told reporters in Athens: "Everybody who has eyes in his head must see that in Venezuela we have a dictatorship, a socialist dictatorship."

He suggested the European Union should change its decision-making process in foreign affairs from requiring unanimous votes to allowing decisions to be taken through majority votes instead, which would have prevented SYRIZA from going against the majority over the Venezuelan crisis.

That, he said, would ensure decisions "are not anymore in the hands of governments like here in Greece which have obviously more contact with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and Maduro and not so much with the free world of democratic countries." Weber was in Athens to attend a two-day EPP group meeting.

SYRIZA says it backs an EU initiative to find a political solution to the Venezuela crisis but has refused to endorse Guaido. Government officials had no immediate response to Weber's remarks.

Mitsotakis said Greece's support for Maduro hurt the country's standing. "I'm very sorry to say this but the position of the Greek prime minister on this issue is a disgrace for our country," Mitsotakis said. "It isolates Greece and it really reduces our political influence abroad."

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)