EU bans arms sales to Venezuela, takes aim at officials

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FILE - In this Oct. 17, 2017 file photo, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a press conference at the Miraflores presidential palace, in Caracas, Venezuela. The EU on Monday Nov. 13, 2017 banned arms sales to Venezuela and set up a system to slap asset freezes and travel restrictions on Venezuelan officials as it seeks to ramp up pressure on President Nicolas Maduro. The move was decided by EU foreign ministers at talks in Brussels. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)

BRUSSELS — The European Union on yesterday banned arms sales to Venezuela and set up a system to slap asset freezes and travel restrictions on Venezuelan officials as it sought to ramp up pressure on President Nicolas Maduro.

The move was decided by EU foreign ministers at talks in Brussels. The weapons ban would stop sales of military equipment that could be used for repression or surveillance of Venezuelans.

"These measures will be used in a gradual and flexible manner and can be expanded, by targeting those involved in the non-respect of democratic principles or the rule of law and the violation of human rights," the ministers said in a statement.

They said the sanctions could be reversed depending on how Maduro reacts to the demands for more democracy in the South American nation and the release of political prisoners.

The United States last Thursday put financial sanctions on another 10 current and former Venezuelan officials over corruption and abuse of power allegations related to Maduro's crackdown on the opposition.

Venezuela's government has faced international criticism since the country's Supreme Court gutted powers of the opposition-controlled congress in March. The ruling was later reversed, but a new constitutional assembly composed entirely of government loyalists has claimed supreme power and has gone after Maduro's political opponents.

The country's oil-dependent economy spiraled into crisis after world oil prices began a plunge in 2014, and it has been hit further by the US sanctions.

In September, the UN's human rights chief said that Venezuela's security forces may have committed "crimes against humanity" in dealing with protesters, and called for an international investigation.

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