Venezuela has broken diplomatic relations and frozen economic ties with Panama, President Nicolas Maduro announced during Hugo Chavez’s first commemoration.
Nicolas Maduro’ decision comes after Panama requested a meeting at the Organization of American States (OAS) to discuss Venezuela’s crisis.
The president was speaking to other Latin American heads of state at events to mark the first anniversary of the death of the Venezualan leader Hugo Chavez.
At least 18 people have died in anti-government protests in the last month.
“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,” Nicolas Maduro told the presidents of Cuba, Raul Castro, Uruguay, Jose Mujica, and Bolivia, Evo Morales, among other leaders gathered around the tomb of Hugo 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,” Ricardo Martinelli wrote on Twitter.
Panama’s official statement said the country was “astonished” and called Nicolas Maduro’s words “unacceptable”.
“The measure announced by President Maduro should not become a smoke screen intended to hide reality,” it read.
Earlier, thousands of government supporters and troops took part in a huge parade through central Caracas, commemorating the first anniversary of former President Hugo Chavez’s death.
In other parts of Caracas, anti-government protesters kept up their barricades, despite an appeal made by opposition leaders to “respect” the anniversary.
Last week, the government of Panama requested an urgent meeting of OAS member-states to discuss the unrest in Venezuela.
On Wednesday, the OAS said a meeting would take place the next day behind closed doors to decide whether or not to convene the region’s foreign ministers over the issue.
Nicolas Maduro accused the Panamanian government of conspiring to bring down his government.
“There are moves by the United States government in accord with a lackey government of a right-wing president which has been creating the conditions for the OAS and other bodies to step towards an intervention in our country,” Nicolas Maduro said.
Nicolas Maduro also criticized OAS President Jose Miguel Insulza, who had suggested earlier that a group of observers could be sent to Venezuela – if its government and the opposition found it useful.
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