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U.S. reviewing options on Venezuela expelling 3 diplomatic employees

CARACAS, Venezuela, Feb. 18 (UPI) --
The United States is weighing its options since it was notified that three diplomatic workers will be expelled by Venezuela, the State Department said.



The State Department was notified Monday afternoon that the Venezuelan government declared three consular officers persona non grata and had 48 hours to leave, State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki said Tuesday.



Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused the three unidentified officers of infiltrating Venezuelan universities under the guise of working on student visas. Instead of performing consular work, the three fomented a growing upsurge in student protests that have resulted in three deaths and scores of injuries, Maduro said in a televised address Sunday.



"The allegations against our diplomats by the Venezuelan government are baseless and false," Psaki said Tuesday in a statement. "Our consular officers were conducting normal outreach activities at universities on student visas, which is something we do around the world as a way to improve the accessibility and transparency of the visa process."



"We have seen many times that the Venezuelan government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela," Psaki said in a statement. "These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan government to deal with the grave situation it faces."



Maduro's address came after Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concerns about Venezuela's escalating tensions.



"We are particularly alarmed by reports that the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained scores of anti-government protesters and issued an arrest warrant for opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez," Kerry said in a statement Saturday.



Psaki said the South American country's political future is for its people to decide.



"We urge Venezuela's government to work to address its people's grievances forthrightly through real, meaningful dialogue," the spokeswoman said.



She said the United States and its partners and allies in the region urge "calm and encourage a genuine dialogue among all Venezuelans. There is no room for violence by either side."



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