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CARACAS (Reuters) - President Nicolas Maduro let rip at the U.S. government on Monday over sanctions against Venezuelan officials and branded ex-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar a "murderer."
The socialist leader, who replaced the late Hugo Chavez last year and is seeing his popularity fall amid a deep economic crisis, was addressing thousands of red-clad supporters at a rally in Caracas to protest against the U.S. sanctions plan.
"They can shove their U.S. visas where they should be shoved, insolent Yankees!" Maduro thundered in rhetoric reminiscent of his mentor Chavez's 14-year rule.
U.S. President Barack Obama plans to sign the legislation to deny visas and freeze assets of Venezuelan officials accused of repressing anti-Maduro protests earlier this year. The House of Representatives and Senate approved the measure last week.
The sanctions issue has provided Maduro a nationalist rallying cry to try and revive his popularity at the end of a tough year for Venezuela which is suffering widespread shortages of basic products and the worst inflation in the Americas.
Having recently slammed Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy over his call for a jailed opponent to be released, the Venezuelan president said on Monday he would not retract his words despite the controversy caused in Europe.
"The Spanish right wing gets annoyed because I tell the truth. I'm not taking back a single comma or full-stop," he said, before turning on Aznar, a long-time enemy of Venezuela's 15-year-old socialist government.
"Aznar is a murderer ... His hands are covered in blood," Maduro said, citing the Spaniard's support of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein.
Reporting by Diego Ore and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Cynthia Osterman