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UNITED NATIONS — Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro traveled to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday to "defend his country" as six nations accused him of crimes against humanity and President Donald Trump hinted at taking strong action.
The surprise visit came after Maduro had earlier threatened to skip the global gathering, citing fears for his personal safety as his once-wealthy OPEC nation spirals into a brutal crisis and international pressure mounts for the socialist leader to step down.
Maduro confirmed in a video broadcast on Venezuelan state television that he was on his way to defend Venezuela, giving voice to his country on the global stage.
"Today we're stronger than ever," a buoyant Maduro said on a flight from Caracas. "I come filled with emotion, passion."
It appeared unlikely, however, that Maduro would cross paths with Trump, despite the U.S. president's comments earlier in the day that he was willing to meet with his Venezuelan counterpart if it would help ease suffering in the South American nation.
"I'm willing to meet with anybody anytime I can (to) save lives, help people," Trump said as he was pummeled by reporters' questions about whether the U.S. would ever intervene military to remove Maduro.
On Wednesday, presidents from five conservative Latin American governments and Canada's prime minister met in New York and signed a complaint with the International Criminal Court asking it to investigate Maduro on charges of crimes against humanity.
It's the first time that member countries have referred another country to the Netherlands-based U.N. court. They point to a human rights report accusing Venezuelan security forces of carrying out arbitrary arrests, murders, extrajudicial executions, torture, sexual abuse and rape on orders from Maduro's government.
"To remain indifferent or speculative in front of this reality could be perceived as being complicit with the regime," said Paraguayan Foreign Minister Andres Rodriguez Pedotti. "We are not going to be complicit."
Venezuela's ousted chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, meanwhile, called on the United States to advantage of Maduro's visit to arrest him on charges of organized crime, corruption and genocide.
Maduro's trip came a day after the Trump administration imposed financial sanctions on four members of his inner circle, including his wife and Venezuela's vice president, on allegations of corruption. Trump also suggested Maduro could be easily toppled in a military coup, echoing comments first floated last year that some sort of "military solution" might be needed to restore Venezuela's democracy.
The newly sanctioned first lady, Cilia Flores, accompanied Maduro to New York.
Maduro has been seeking a meeting with Trump for almost two years and has watched with frustration as the U.S. leader has talked with American adversaries like North Korea's Kim Jong Un and Russia's Vladimir Putin while shunning Venezuelan entreaties.
Citgo, a subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, was a major corporate donor to Trump's inaugural committee. Maduro also this year freed a former Utah missionary jailed for more than two years on weapons charges in a bid to improve relations with the White House.
His desire for some sort of reconciliation with the U.S. has increased as international pressure has been building on his socialist government at a time of hyperinflation and widespread food and medicine shortages.
An estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled into neighboring countries in the last four years, threatening to upset regional stability.
Maduro has not attended the U.N. General Assembly since 2015 and said last week that he might have to suspend his participation this year out of concerns his opponents would try to kill him if he traveled abroad.
Trump said Wednesday that all U.S. options are on the table to help end the political, economic and humanitarian chaos in Venezuela — even the "strong ones."
"I just want to see Venezuela straightened out. I want the people to be safe. We're going to take care of Venezuela," he said, calling Venezuela's situation a disgrace.