Washington (AFP) - Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro may present a petition against US President Donald Trump at the United Nations despite opposition charges that the signatures have been gathered through threats to withhold food aid, US diplomats say.
Maduro, who remains in charge in Venezuela despite a half-year US-backed effort to remove him, has not yet announced if he will head to New York for the annual UN General Assembly later this month.
"Our diplomats have been hearing that Maduro plans to present a petition against President Trump, signed by millions of Venezuelans, at UNGA, if he actually attends," a US official said.
The Maduro government has been gathering signatures among Venezuelans as part of its "No More Trump" campaign.
The petition comes as Trump imposes sweeping sanctions on the economically devastated country aimed at removing the leftist Maduro and installing Juan Guaido, the National Assembly leader considered interim president by more than 50 countries.
But the opposition says that the Maduro government has gathered the signatures through extortion over desperately needed nutritional assistance.
Videos recently posted by the citizen journalism site Reporte Ya and elsewhere showed what appeared to be Venezuelans refusing orders to sign in exchange for receiving the aid, known locally as a CLAP box.
"If you don't sign against Trump and sanctions, there won't be any CLAP food boxes," a municipal woman is quoted as saying by La Patilla, a prominent news site close to the opposition.
The US State Department described Maduro's effort as a "starvation petition" and said it was evidence that he could not win a fair election.
"Maduro does not have sufficient support among the Venezuela people, so he's relying on extortion to collect these signatures," a State Department spokesman said.
"That Maduro is withholding food to compel signatures is yet another example of his human rights abuses and political manipulation of humanitarian resources," he said.
Maduro still enjoys support from Russia, China and Cuba as well as Venezuela's military leadership, with revolts backed by Guaido fizzling out.
Maduro's government holds Venezuela's seat at the United Nations, meaning he has the right to take part in the annual UN summit that Trump will also attend.