Venezuela breaks diplomatic relations with Panama
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced Wednesday that he was breaking diplomatic relations with Panama and freezing bilateral economic links.
The decision comes after the Central American nation requested a meeting at the Organization of American States (OAS) to discuss Venezuela\’s crisis.
Maduro was speaking to other Latin American heads of state at events to mark the first anniversary of the death of the leader Hugo Chavez.
At least 18 people have died in street protests in the last three weeks.
"I\’ve decided to break political and diplomatic ties with the current government of Panama and freeze all trade and economic relations from this moment on," Maduro told the presidents of Cuba, Raul Castro, Uruguay, Jose Mujica, and Bolivia, Evo Morales, among other leaders gathered around the tomb of Chavez.
Panama\’s President Ricardo Martinelli expressed surprise at Venezuela\’s decision.
"Panama only hopes that this brother nation finds peace and strengthens its democracy," artinelli wrote on Twitter.
Panama\’s official statement said the country was "astonished" and called Maduro\’s words "unacceptable".
"The measure announced by President Maduro should not become a smoke screen intended to hide reality," it read.
There were parades and protests in Caracas Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Mourners filed past the sarcophagus containing his body while his successor, Nicolas Maduro, presided over a joint military-civilian parade.
But there was no let up in anti-government protests, now into their second month.
Hundreds of demonstrators blocked streets in the capital with garbage, and blew whistles and horns.
Maduro blames those he calls "right wing fascists" for the protests. He had called on all Venezuelans to come together in "peace and love" to honor President Chavez.
Chavez died last year of cancer after leading Venezuela for 14 years.
Many poor Venezuelans say living conditions and job and educational opportunities improved under his socialist government.
But others join the anti-government protesters in saying they are sick of food shortages, poor services and out-of-control crime.