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Venezuela president gives American diplomats 48 hours to leave country

  • 48ead875c2a909064c0f6a706700843b.jpg

    A woman affected by tear gas, is helped by a fellow demonstrator after an opposition protest march ended in clashes with the Bolivarian National Guard, in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. Venezuelan security forces backed by water tanks, tear gas and rubber bullets dispersed groups of anti-government demonstrators who tried to block Caracas' main highway Sunday evening. (AP Photo/Alejandro Cegarra)The Associated Press

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    Demonstrators hold up their hands during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. Demonstrators are protesting the Wednesday killings of two university students who were shot in different incidents after an anti-government protest demanding the release of student protesters arrested in various parts of the country. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)The Associated Press

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    A demonstrator holds up a sign that reads in Spanish "There is no road to peace. Peace is the way. Awake Venezuela" in front of a line of National Bolivarian Guards dressed in riot gear, in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. Demonstrators are protesting the Wednesday killings of two university students who were shot in different incidents after an anti-government protest demanding the release of student protesters. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)The Associated Press

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    A demonstrator ovecome by tear gas is carried away by fellow demonstrators after an opposition protest march ended in clashes with the Bolivarian National Guard, in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. Venezuelan security forces backed by water tanks, tear gas and rubber bullets dispersed groups of anti-government demonstrators who tried to block Caracas' main highway Sunday evening. (AP Photo/Alejandro Cegarra)The Associated Press

  • d13772dcc28a08064c0f6a706700c220.jpg

    A demonstrator show the palm of her hands that reads in Spanish "Peace" during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. Demonstrators are protesting the Wednesday killings of two university students who were shot in different incidents after an anti-government protest demanding the release of student protesters arrested in various parts of the country. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)The Associated Press

President Nicolas Maduro's government is giving three U.S. Embassy officials 48 hours to leave Venezuela after Washington came to the defense of an opposition hard-liner accused by Venezuela's leader of responsibility for bloodshed during anti-government protests.

Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said that Breeann Marie McCusker, Jeffrey Gordon Elsen and Kristofer Lee Clark were trying to infiltrate Venezuelan universities under the cover of doing visa outreach. Jaua said all three officials had the rank of vice consul.

Jaua on Monday repeated accusations by Maduro that the U.S. is conspiring with opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez to try to oust the socialist president from power. The U.S. has denied the charges.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that Lopez's arrest would have a "chilling effect" on Venezuelans' right to express themselves freely.