Venezuela to quit OAS regional bloc: government

Opposition activists clash with riot police during a protest against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on April 26, 2017

Venezuela said Wednesday it was quitting the Organization of American States in anger at pressure from the bloc over the government's handling of a violent political crisis.

Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said the government would launch a two-year process to pull out of the Washington-based regional diplomatic grouping.

"Tomorrow, as President Nicolas Maduro has instructed, we will present a letter of complaint to the OAS and we will begin a process that will take 24 months," she said in a televised address.

The OAS and other international authorities have voiced concern about the state of democracy in Venezuela, where President Nicolas Maduro is resisting opposition pressure to remove him from office.

So far this month, 28 people have been killed, several of them shot, in anti-government protests that have erupted into clashes with riot police.

On Wednesday, the permanent council of the 35-nation OAS upped the ante by taking its discussions about Venezuela to a higher level.

Its members agreed by a majority of 19 to hold a meeting of their foreign ministers to discuss the crisis, the bloc said in a statement.

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has previously branded Maduro, an elected socialist, a "dictator" for stifling the opposition.

Maduro's government has bristled against what it says is international interference in its affairs.

Rodriguez branded the OAS an "interventionist coalition" led by Washington.

"Venezuela will not take part in future in any activity or event where there is an intention to take a position of interventionism or interference," she said.

Venezuela has suffered an economic collapse fueled by a plunge in international prices for its crucial oil exports.

A vocal critic of the United States, Maduro says the economic crisis is due to a US-backed capitalist conspiracy.