Venezuela's Maduro rallies army as Guaido marches with supporters

  • 30 Jan 2019

President Nicolas Maduro slams Colombia's "oligarchy" for working with deserters to drive a wedge between himself and his loyal military. Meanwhile, self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido appears briefly in anti-Maduro protest.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gestures during a meeting with soldiers at a military base in Caracas, Venezuela, January 30, 2019. ( Reuters )

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro hit out Wednesday at military "mercenaries" he says are conspiring to divide the armed forces and plot a coup as the opposition held a new protest to force the socialist leader from power.

Maduro accused an "oligarchy" in neighbouring Colombia of being behind an attempt by military deserters to drive a wedge between himself and his loyal forces, which are key to the leader's hold on power faced with mounting international support for self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido.

Six major western European countries have set a weekend deadline for Maduro to call elections or they too will recognize Guaido as interim president.

In a telephone call, US President Donald Trump congratulated Guaido on his "historic assumption of the presidency," giving him a new sense of legitimacy, the White House said.

Speaking at a parade of 2,500 military personnel in Caracas, Maduro declared, "Where there are mercenary traitors, justice!"

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido gestures as he attends a session of the Venezuela's National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela January 29, 2019.(Reuters)

Guaido appears in a protest

It came just hours before a midday strike announced by opposition leader Guaido.

Guaido made a brief appearance in a Caracas street as thousands of opposition supporters marched in protest against the government.

Surrounded by supporters, Guaido spoke to the press and posed for photos with his supporters before getting on a motorcycle and riding away.

"Today Venezuelans step out again to raise our voice," Gauido said on Twitter Wednesday. "And show that we can change our country." 

The strike aims to "demand that the armed forces side with the people" after bloody clashes following protests last week left more than 40 people dead and 850 incarcerated.

Oil-rich Venezuela has suffered an economic meltdown marked by hyperinflation and shortages of basic necessities that has left millions in poverty, while 2.3 million more have fled the country.

"Venezuela has risen up to dream of the country we want to be," said Guaido. "We must take to the street."

In an interview with the German daily Bild, he called on EU countries to impose more sanctions on Maduro's government.

The US slapped oil sanctions on Maduro's regime earlier this week in an attempt to starve the government of its funding.

Another mass street demonstration is planned for Saturday. National Assembly president Guaido wants Maduro to step down so he can set up a transitional government ahead of new elections.

In an interview with Russia's RIA Novosti agency, Maduro said he was willing to negotiate with the opposition and, mockingly, even offered to bring forward parliamentary elections.

"I am ready to sit down at the negotiating table with the opposition so that we could talk for the good of Venezuela," said Maduro, 56.

"It would be very good to conduct parliamentary elections at an earlier stage."

But France said Maduro has not responded to an EU demand for elections.

TRT World's Ediz Tiyansan has the latest from Caracas.

'Let them wait' 

"Presidential elections in Venezuela have taken place, and if imperialists want new elections let them wait until 2025," Maduro said in an apparent reference to Washington.

The United States, the European Union and many Latin American countries joined the opposition in dismissing the legitimacy of presidential elections Maduro won in May.

Guaido, 35, says Maduro is "illegitimate" and launched a direct challenge to the former bus driver's authority last week when he declared himself acting president.

He has received backing from the US and several major countries but it is the support of the military that he needs most to drive Maduro out of power.

The military high command remains loyal to Maduro but Guaido has tried to convince the rank and file to switch sides.

'5,000 troops to Colombia'

The United States has refused to rule out military intervention in Venezuela and Donald Trump's National Security Advisor John Bolton was even photographed on Monday at the White House holding a notepad with the scrawled line: "5,000 troops to Colombia."

A furious Maduro said Trump would have "blood all over his hands" if violence breaks out in Venezuela.

In a tweet, he urged the opposition to "ignore the imperialist calls" and reiterated his offer of dialogue to Guaido. He has previously accused the US of trying to orchestrate a coup.

Maduro also asked Americans for support to avoid a "new Vietnam" in a video message on Wednesday.

"I want to send a message to the people of the U.S. to alert them to the campaign of the media, communication, and psychological war that the international media are developing, especially the U.S. media against Venezuela," said Maduro. 

"I ask for the support of people of the United States so that there is not a new Vietnam.

“They [the US] want to put their hands on our oil like they did in Iraq, like they did in Libya," Maduro said, referring to fact that Venezuela has the world's largest oil reserves.