Venezuela expels Spanish ambassador after EU sanctions

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Venezuela said on Thursday it was declaring Spain’s ambassador “persona non grata,” days after the European Union imposed sanctions on senior officials of the socialist government.

The move to expel Jesus Silva Fernandez came in response to Spain’s “continual aggressions and repeated meddling in the internal affairs of our country,” the Venezuelan government said in a statement.

The EU announced sanctions on seven members of President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government on Monday for alleged abuses of rights and democracy.

Foes accuse Maduro of turning the OPEC nation into a dictatorship, while he says he is the victim of a U.S.-led right-wing conspiracy to eliminate socialism.

Maduro let rip at Spain’s conservative prime minister this week. “Mariano Rajoy, get on all fours, my friend, because the people are going to slap you,” he told a rally of red-shirted supporters in Caracas.

Rajoy hit back, saying the EU sanctions were fully-deserved and were in fact “light” given Maduro’s attitude to democracy. There was no immediate response from Madrid to the envoy’s expulsion.