Machado formally wins Venezuela primary, government warns against foreign interference

CARACAS (Reuters) - Former lawmaker Maria Corina Machado was formally declared the victor of the Venezuelan opposition's weekend presidential primary on Thursday, as a government official warned foreign diplomats not to interfere in the electoral process.

The country's attorney general said on Wednesday his office has launched a criminal investigation into the primary and members of its organizing commission.

The investigation risks the wrath of the U.S., which last week relaxed some sanctions on the government of President Nicolas Maduro on pledges his government made of a fair election next year, in a deal between it and the opposition in Barbados.

The U.S. State Department has already said it will reinstate previous sanctions if Maduro's government does not rescind public office bans on Machado and others, as well as release political prisoners and "wrongly detained" Americans by the end of November.

Sanctions were widely expanded in 2019 after Maduro won re-election in what the U.S. and others say was a fraudulent vote.

Machado, who won about 93% of votes in the primary, met with about 10 foreign diplomats on Wednesday at her party's headquarters, sparking the government's objections.

"With all due respect...don't interfere with internal issues," Jorge Rodriguez, president of the ruling party-run legislature, told a large group of diplomats at his own meeting with them on Thursday, as reporters looked on.

The government did not provide a list of attendees at the meeting.

Rodriguez, the government's top negotiator in talks with the opposition, told the diplomats the primary violated electoral rules because it was organized without the help of electoral authorities and violated the Barbados deal.

Machado, however, said the investigation into the primary is a "clear" violation of the Barbados deal.

"We hope it does not proceed," she said at a press conference to announce the primary's final vote count.

The primary's organizing commission tried unsuccessfully to involve electoral authorities, said commission head Jesus Maria Casal, who is among those under investigation.

He did not comment on the investigation.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera, Mayela Armas and Deisy Buitrago; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Rod Nickel)