US House of Representatives approves Venezuela sanctions

Protests in San Cristobal, Venezuela Protests carry on in the city of San Cristobal, where the anti-government demonstrations began in early February

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The US House of Representatives has approved a bill to introduce sanctions against Venezuelan officials involved in human rights abuses.

The legislation calls for a travel ban on some members of the Venezuelan government and for their assets in US banks to be frozen.

The US Foreign Relations Committee advanced a similar bill last week.

At least 42 people have been killed since protests against President Nicolas Maduro began in February.

The victims are from both sides of the political divide in the South American nation.

"The United States Congress must stand ready to act on the cause of freedom and democracy around the globe," Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said during the debate in the House.

The White House opposes sanctions against Mr Maduro's government.

It says such measures could undermine efforts to find a political solution to the crisis.

May 1st pro-government demonstration in Caracas Government supporters say they will defend the programme of social reforms introduced by Hugo Chavez
Nicolas Maduro, 20 May 14 Mr Maduro's term in office ends in January 2019
Opposition politician Maria Corina Machado The government has accused Maria Machado of plotting a coup against Nicolas Maduro

Democratic Representative Gregory Meeks says the bill will undermine efforts by regional leaders to encourage dialogue between the government and the opposition.

"This bill does not advance US interests. It sends a message to our regional allies that we do not care about what they think," Mr Meeks told Reuters.

Foreign ministers from the Unasur regional group left Caracas last week after the opposition pulled out of talks.

"Infamy"

The main opposition group, the Democratic Unity Alliance (Mud), was angry at the government's refusal to release more than 200 people detained recently by police.

US Secretary of State John Kerry accused the government of failing to show good faith in the talks and said the US was "losing patience" with Venezuela.

Protests began in western Venezuela in the beginning of February and spread to the rest of the country.

The opposition blames failed left-wing policies for high inflation, crime and the shortage of many staples.

Mr Maduro says right-wing sectors inside and outside Venezuela had come together to create dissent and destabilise his government.

Earlier on Wednesday, Venezuelan officials accused opposition politician Maria Corina Machado of plotting with US officials to assassinate Mr Maduro.

She denied the claims, describing them in her Twitter account as "infamy".

Mr Maduro was elected last year to replace the late President, Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer after more than 14 years in office.

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