Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro said Thursday he wants a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump — the same man he ridicules as a crass imperial magnate and blasts for U.S. sanctions against officials in his administration.

In a lengthy address to the 545 members of a new, all-powerful constitutional assembly, Maduro instructed Venezuela’s foreign minister to approach the United States about arranging a telephone conversation or meeting with Trump.

“Mr. Donald Trump, here is my hand,” Maduro said, adding that he wants as strong a relationship with the U.S. as he has with Russia.

The remarks came shortly after Maduro forcefully warned the U.S. president that Venezuela “will never give in.”

The Trump administration has called Maduro a “dictator” and issued sanctions against him and more than two dozen other former and current officials, accusing Maduro’s government of violating human rights and undermining the country’s democracy amid an escalating political and financial crisis.

5th opposition mayor removed

A fifth opposition mayor in Venezuela was removed from his post and ordered under arrest in a continuing crackdown by the struggling nation’s government on its adversaries.

A small group of young people, some of them masked, set up barricades of strewn metal objects in the eastern Caracas district of El Hatillo on Thursday to protest the previous day’s Supreme Court decision to order Mayor David Smolansky imprisoned for 15 months for not obeying orders to shut down the protests.

Venezuela Political Crisis

Venezuela’s Supreme Court ordered David Smolansky, mayor of El Hatillo district, centre, removed from office and imprisoned for 15 months for not obeying orders to shut down protests in the Caracas district. (Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press)

“[We can’t allow] the dictatorship to hunt down, imprison and treat our mayors like criminals,” said Andres Paez, a lawyer who joined the protest.

Smolansky, a former student activist, issued a video from an undisclosed location in which he called on residents of El Hatillo to take to the streets to uphold their right to representation against what he called the government’s “political firing squad.”

“I want to tell you all that I continue being a public servant by vocation and conviction,” Smolansky said. “My commitment to restoring freedom in Venezuela remains intact.”

His arrest was ordered by the government-stacked Supreme Court less than 48 hours after it levied a similar sentence against Ramon Muchacho, another Caracas-area mayor. Opposition leaders decried both rulings, calling them part of a campaign by the high court to illegally remove anti-government mayors from their elected posts.

According to their figures, about a third of the nation’s opposition mayors have been removed from office or jailed, or are under threat of arrest.

‘A continued coup’

Gerardo Blyde, an opposition mayor of Baruta, a city of more than 350,000 near the capital, equated it to a sort of “Russian roulette.”

Protest 2

Opposition activists and riot police clash in Caracas following the installation of the constitutional assembly. (Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images)

“This is a continued coup against municipal public authority,” he said.

In a news conference Thursday, he said mayors can only be removed if they die, resign, are revoked in a popular vote or are apprehended for a criminal offence.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court noted that Smolansky has been barred from leaving the country and directed the nation’s intelligence agency to alert Interpol to help “determine his whereabouts and capture outside national territory.”

Of the five mayors recently sentenced, just one is in jail. All others have managed to flee or remain underground.

The court also ordered that a copy of the decision be sent to Delcy Rodriguez, the president of a new, all-powerful constitutional assembly and head of a “truth commission” approved shortly after its installation last Friday.

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Washington slapped sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro last week to punish him for creating the new, all-powerful constitutional assembly, which has the authority to rewrite the country’s constitution. (Miraflores Palace/Reuters)

The commission will wield unusual power to prosecute and punish those who the government determines responsible for the last four months of unrest. Maduro has promised to use the commission to target key opposition leaders.

Credit Suisse bans trading in Venezuelan bonds

On Thursday, Credit Suisse bank banned the trading and use of Venezuelan bonds.

The bank will no longer trade or accept as collateral two specific types of Venezuelan securities, as well as any bonds the country issued from June 1 going forward, according to a company spokesperson who was not authorized to give her name. Further, any businesses who wish to do business with Venezuela and deal in any assets there will have to go through additional screening.

The country’s bonds are one of the few ways the current government is able to raise money to support its collapsing economy.

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