Adds response from Guyanese government
GEORGETOWN, July 15 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday called on Guyanese President David Granger to "step aside" following a disputed election in the new oil producer.
Preliminary data from a recount of votes published by Guyana's elections commission last month showed opposition candidate Irfaan Ali won March's presidential election. But Granger has remained in power, drawing condemnation from regional bodies like the Organization of American States.
At a press briefing, Pompeo said Washington was restricting the U.S. visas of "individuals responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Guyana." He did not name those individuals.
"The Granger government must respect the results of democratic elections and step aside," Pompeo said.
In a statement, Granger's government said it "regrets" the State Department's decision and said the outcome of the election was the responsibility of the judiciary, which has not yet made a final declaration.
"The Executive arm has not interfered in the functioning of the Elections Commission," the statement read.
The disputed election comes after Exxon Mobil Corp XOM.N in December began producing crude off the South American country's shores as part of a consortium with Hess Corp HES.N and China's CNOOC Ltd 0883.HK. Oil is expected to transform the economy of the poor country with just 800,000 people.
Guyana's politics are divided along ethnic lines between Afro-Guyanese, who mostly support Granger's APNU+AFC coalition, and those of Indian descent, who mainly back Ali's People's Progressive Party. Each of those groups has grown suspicious that the other is seeking control over oil revenues.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York and Neil Marks in Georgetown; Editing by Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman)
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