US vows pressure on Venezuela, punishes five officials

Remigio Ceballos, a senior Venezuelan admiral hit by US sanctions, walks to the left of President Nicolas Maduro during a January 2019 military rally

The United States on Tuesday vowed to maintain maximum pressure to topple Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro as it slapped sanctions on five more officials.

"While Maduro and his associates continue to enrich themselves, the Venezuelan people suffer brutality, violence and oppression at the hands of the intelligence, security and armed forces," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

The action "demonstrates the United States' continuing commitment to maintain maximum pressure on the former Maduro regime to help ensure a democratic transition in Venezuela," he said.

The five officials -- whose US interests, if any, will be blocked -- include Remigio Ceballos, a senior naval admiral who has vowed to block foreign aid, and Jose Ornelas Ferreira, secretary general of the National Defense Council which Washington blamed for excessive use of force against demonstrators and journalists.

President Donald Trump in January declared Maduro illegitimate after a widely criticized election, with most Western and Latin American nations recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president.

But nearly a year of pressure has failed to dislodge Maduro, who retains the support of the military, Russia and China despite a crumbling economy.