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Venezuela ousts CNN as tensions flare with the Trump administration

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a press conference with international and national press at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017.(AP/Ariana Cubillos)

The Venezuelan government shut down CNN's feed of their Spanish-language channel Wednesday as the relationship between the government and President Donald Trump's administration appeared to be deteriorating.

According to a Washington Examiner report quoting the Associated Press, President Nicolas Maduro said he wanted CNN out of Venezuela due to what he called their "direct aggressions" against the country.

Maduro was upset over a CNN report that alleged Venezuela's embassy in Iraq was selling passports and visas to potential terrorists. Those allegations link Venezuela's new Vice President Tareck El Aissami to as many as 173 Venezuelan passports and IDs issued to Middle Eastern natives, including people allegedly connected to the terrorist group Hezbollah, according to CNN.

"I want CNN well away from here. Outside of Venezuela. Do not put your nose in Venezuela," Maduro said Sunday. He also called CNN an "instrument of war" after their report on the passport story aired and said that Venezuela would respond "firmly" to those who "tangle" with them.

The Trump administration also sparked the ire of Maduro when the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Maduro's El Aissami, whom they accused of being behind the passport racket as well as being a prolific drug trafficker. The Treasury Department froze the U.S. assets of El Aissami and the businessman, Samark Jose Lopez Bello, and banned U.S. nationals from doing business with them, Yahoo News reported.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has been actively prodding Venezuela to release a prominent political prisoner, Leopoldo López. Trump met with Lopez's wife and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) at the White House Wednesday. He even tweeted a photo of the meeting while calling for the dissident's release.

Lopez is the leader of a political group that opposes Maduro and is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence for allegedly "inciting unrest" as part of anti-government protests that left 43 people dead in early 2014.

In an address Wednesday, Maduro said he wanted to avoid confrontation with the Trump administration but warned that Trump should not repeat the mistakes of George Bush or the "Clinton-Obama clan." Venezuela has been critical of the U.S. for years and the two nations have not shared ambassadors since 2010.

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