Venezuela deputy president defies US over drug sanction
The vice-president of Venezuela has accused the US of "imperialist aggression" after it slapped sanctions on him for allegedly trafficking drugs.
Tareck El Aissami was described by the US treasury as a drug "kingpin" who worked with traffickers in Mexico and Colombia to ship drugs to America.
Hitting back, he accused the US of "defamatory aggression".
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro demanded a public apology from the US for sanctioning his new deputy.
The sanctions freeze Mr El Aissami's assets in the US and bar him from entering the country.
He is seen as a powerful figure within the governing party and has been entrusted by Mr Maduro with key powers normally held by the president, such as determining ministerial budgets and expropriating private companies.
The US treasury accuses him of being in the pay of convicted Venezuelan drug lord Walid Makled for protecting drug shipments.
"They'll never be able to defeat our unbreakable resolution to be free forever," Mr El Aissami said.
Sanctions were also imposed on wealthy Venezuelan businessman Samark Lopez, described as Mr El Aissami's "primary frontman".
Mr Lopez released a statement saying he had not trafficked drugs.
Vice-President El Aissami is the highest-ranking Venezuelan official ever to be sanctioned by the US, which has not exchanged ambassadors with the country since 2010.
US counter-narcotics experts have long said that large amounts of cocaine transit from Colombia through Venezuela on to Europe and the US.