Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaido, who has proclaimed himself Venezuela’s interim president, on Sunday called for two new protests in an effort to push the military to turn against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and back a European ultimatum demanding free elections within the week.
In a video on Twitter, the head of the opposition-controlled national parliament said that the first of the nationwide strikes, on Wednesday from noon to 2pm, would be one “to demand that the armed forces side with the people.”
The second, on Saturday, would be a “big national and international rally to back the support of the EU and the ultimatum” from Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands that they would recognize Guaido as interim president unless Maduro calls elections by Feb. 3.
The EU as a whole was more circumspect, saying that it would take “further actions” if elections were not called in the coming days, including the issue of recognition of the country’s “leadership.”
Australia, meanwhile, said that it “recognizes and supports” Guaido as interim president pending elections.
Italy has called for “a rapid return to democratic legitimacy.”
The US separately warned that there would be a “significant response” if US diplomats, Guaido or the National Assembly were targeted with violence and intimidation.
Maduro so far has not budged from his position, telling CNN Turk: “No one can give us an ultimatum.”
Nearly 30 people have been killed and more than 350 arrested in clashes with security forces over the past week.
Encouraged by the international support for his cause, Guaido is on a mission to weaken the military’s support of Maduro, which has been essential to keeping him in power since 2013.
His appeals have included promises of amnesty and mass protests to dramatize the depth of popular opposition to Maduro, who has presided over a virtual collapse of the economy and a severe humanitarian crisis, with shortages of food and medicines.
Supporters circulated copies of amnesty measures approved by the National Assembly to friends and relatives in the military, but some soldiers burned or ripped up the document.
Venezuela’s military attache in Washington, Venezuelan Army Colonel Jose Luis Silva, switched his support to Guaido in a video that called on his brothers in arms to follow his lead.
Maduro appeared at a military exercise in the state of Carabobo, where he called for “union, discipline and cohesion” to defeat what he called an “attempted coup d’etat.”
“Traitors never, loyal always,” he told the military audience.
Televised images showed tanks lined up in a row and soldiers firing their weapons.
“Are you coup-backers or are you constitutionalists? Are you pro-imperialist or anti-imperialists?” Maduro asked.
Guaido, 35, declared himself acting president in Caracas on Wednesday during an anti-government rally attended by tens of thousands of people.
His bid was swiftly endorsed by Canada, the US and many Latin American countries.
“Any violence and intimidation against US diplomatic personnel, Venezuela’s democratic leader, Juan Guaido, or the National Assembly itself would represent a grave assault on the rule of law and will be met with a significant response,” US National Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted, without specifying what kind of response he meant.
Washington also accepted exiled opposition leader Carlos Vecchio as Venezuela’s new charge d’affaires to the US after he was tapped by Guaido.
Maduro has received backing from China, Russia, Syria and Turkey, as well as longtime allies Cuba and Bolivia.
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