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Lisbon denounces suspension of TAP flights to Venezuela

Portugal on Tuesday condemned Venezuela’s decision to slap a three-month suspension on Portuguese airline TAP for allegedly allowing an uncle of opposition leader Juan Guaido to travel with explosives.

“All this is unacceptable, incomprehensible and intolerable,” President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa told Portuguese media.

Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva, for his part, said: “It’s an unfriendly act against Portugal, a country that stands out for its balance and its ability to talk to everyone.”

Venezuela said Monday it has suspended operations of Portugal’s flagship airline to and from Venezuela, accusing it of allowing Guaido’s uncle Juan Marquez to carry explosives aboard a TAP plane, hiding them in his luggage.

Marquez was arrested upon arriving in Caracas from Lisbon with Guaido last week after a trip to the United States and Europe.

Announcing the suspension of TAP for “serious irregularities”, Venezuelan Transport Minister Hipolito Abreu said it could become a permanent ban.

Top Maduro ally Diosdado Cabello said Marquez was detained for allegedly carrying C-4 explosives hidden inside flashlights and perfume refills, and was wearing a bulletproof vest.

Cabello accused TAP of violating international norms by allowing Marquez “to import explosives”.

Maduro’s government also accuses TAP of hiding Guaido’s name from the official passenger manifest and using a false identity for him.

Last Friday, Portugal said it was launching an investigation into the alleged “security failure on a flight from Lisbon” to Caracas.

“TAP does not understand the reasons for this suspension,” the airline said, complaining that it had not had the chance to defend itself.

The Portuguese immigrant community in Venezuela numbers between 300,000 and 400,000.

Venezuela’s government is under harsh US and EU sanctions.

Some 50 countries recognise Guaido as acting president in the South American country following Maduro’s 2018 re-election, denounced by the opposition as rigged.

TAP was one of the few foreign airlines still operating flights to and from Venezuela since 2013 when the price of oil — the source of 96 percent of the country’s revenues — began to plummet.