Caracas: Venezuela’s opposition leader called on more members of the military to abandon the country’s socialist government following the defection of a high-ranking general, while President Nicolas Maduro proposed holding early National Assembly elections that could potentially oust his challenger. Maduro’s call for early legislative voting is likely to intensify his standoff with rival Juan Guaido, who heads the opposition-controlled National Assembly and is demanding a new presidential election. Guaido declared himself Venezuela’s legitimate ruler on January 23, and has the support of Washington and most South American nations.
Speaking from behind a podium decorated with Venezuela’s presidential seal, Guaido told supporters he would keep his opposition movement in the streets until Maduro stopped “usurping” the presidency and agreed to a presidential election overseen by international observers.On Saturday, tens of thousands of Venezuelans joined opposition protests against Maduro in Caracas and other cities. Guaido called on “blocks” of the military to defect from Maduro’s administration and “get on the side of the Venezuelan people.” “We don’t just want you to stop shooting at protesters,” Guaido said in a hoarse voice.
“We want you to be part of the reconstruction of Venezuela.” He said in the coming days, the opposition would try to move humanitarian aid into the country by land and sea along three border points, including the Colombian city of Cucuta. He described the move as a “test” for Venezuela’s armed forces, which will have to choose if they allow the much needed aid to pass, or if they instead obey the orders of Maduro’s government. Maduro also dug in his heels, insisting he was the only president of Venezuela and describing Saturday’s anti-government protests as part of a US-led coup attempt.