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The Canadian government took steps Monday to apply further pressure on Venezuela by announcing it won’t seek to replace its ambassador in Caracas following a presidential election that has attracted widespread international condemnation.

On Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called Sunday’s elections, which will keep President Nicolas Maduro in power, “illegitimate and anti-democratic.”

Freeland said that in response, Canada would “downgrade” its diplomatic ties with the South American country, effective immediately.

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Among the actions, Ottawa imposed a ban on formal military co-operation with Venezuela and ensure the Canadian embassy in Caracas is only headed by a charge d’affaires rather than an ambassador.

The moves by Ottawa come as countries around the world increase their pressure on the already embattled Venezuelan government, which is accused of failing to provide its citizens with a fair, democratic and transparent process. The international community also has strong concerns over Venezuela’s deepening economic and humanitarian crises.

“The Maduro regime has shown itself unwilling to make any serious attempt to ensure the elections meet international democratic standards of freedom and fairness,” Freeland said in a statement.

“The Maduro regime has once again failed its people by restricting Venezuelans’ rights and liberty and by preventing the free participation of opposition parties.

“Canada rejects the Venezuelan electoral process – and its results – as not representing the democratic will of Venezuela’s citizens.”

The Trump administration on Monday dismissed Venezuela’s presidential election as a “sham” and ramped up economic and diplomatic pressure on Maduro’s beleaguered government.

The White House announced that President Donald Trump had signed an executive order restricting the Venezuelan government’s ability to liquidate assets for pennies on the dollar at the expense of the Venezuelan people. The order, which stopped short of imposing crippling oil sanctions on the nation’s economy, was the latest effort by Trump to punish Maduro’s government.

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Vice-President Mike Pence asserted that it had been “neither free nor fair.” He called it a “fake process” whose result was illegitimate, calling the move to hold the election “a further blow to the proud democratic tradition of Venezuela.”

“America stands against dictatorship and with the people of Venezuela,” Pence said.

He insisted that Maduro allow humanitarian aid into the country, where widespread food shortages and hyperinflation have helped fuel the social crisis and opposition to Maduro’s government.

For months, diplomatic postings have been at the centre of the increasingly frigid relationship between Canada and Venezuela.

In December, Ottawa stripped Venezuelan diplomats of their credentials in response to the same being done to Canada’s charge d’affaires, who was the diplomat heading up the embassy in Caracas in the absence of the ambassador.

Shortly before Christmas, officials in Venezuela announced they would expel Canadian diplomat Craig Kowalik from the country by declaring him persona non grata and taking away his diplomatic credentials.

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At the time, national constituent assembly president Delcy Rodriguez accused Kowalik of meddling in the country’s internal affairs and of tweeting “rude and vulgar” comments about Venezuela.

Freeland responded by saying the Venezuelan Ambassador to Canada, who had already been withdrawn by the Venezuelan government, was no longer welcome in Canada. She also revoked the Venezuelan charge d’affaires’ status.

With a report from The Associated Press

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