United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, on Thursday joined Venezuelan protesters outside the world body headquarters and called for the ouster of President Nicolas Maduro.
Haley's embrace of demonstrators was highly unusual for a diplomat from a major power at the staid United Nations and came a day after President Donald Trump hinted at military options against Maduro's leftist government.
"We are going to fight for Venezuela and we are going to continue doing it until Maduro is gone!" Haley shouted from a megaphone.
"We need your voices to be loud and I will tell you, the US voice is going to be loud," she said.
Haley said she visited the border with Colombia, which has accepted more than one million Venezuelans fleeing an economic freefall including hyperinflation.
"What we saw is what no one should live ... while Maduro is eating in nice restaurants."
Demonstrators held up banners including "SOS Venezuela" and chanted "What do we want? Freedom!" in a sealed-off plaza outside the United Nations that is the favorite location for protesters during the annual week of global diplomacy.
The Venezuelan protesters rubbed shoulders with Falungong members decrying the spiritual movement's ban in China and ultra-Orthodox Jews who oppose the state of Israel and came out to picket Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"We welcome the presence of Nikki Haley. We welcome the words of President Trump and every official who denounced Nicolas Maduro," said Erick Rozo, 30, one of the protest leaders.
"For the first time in 20 years the world is opening its eyes and recognizing the crisis that Venezuelans are suffering."
Guimar Silva, 32, voiced hope that the United Nations would take action.
"We can't endure many more years in poverty and hunger. People are dying, there is no medicine or food, and children and seniors are the worst affected," she said.
Maduro flew to New York at the last minute after Trump's threats, accusing the United States of "permanent aggression" but also saying he was willing to meet Trump.
Two decades after leftist firebrand Hugo Chavez took charge, Venezuela is struggling with inflation that is expected to hit one million percent this year, putting basic goods out of reach for much of the population.
Some 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled the country. Maduro, like Chavez before him, regularly decries US interference in Latin America and has justified policies by citing US hostility.