Venezuela Border Tensions Turn Violent Amid Aid Distribution Bid By Esteban Rojas
Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido claimed Saturday a first shipment of humanitarian aid has reached Venezuela, defying a border blockade by President Nicolas Maduro as a standoff over the entry of food and medical aid turned violent.
Venezuelan National Guard forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at several crossing points on the Colombia border, pinning down demonstrators seeking to reach humanitarian aid stockpiled on the other side.
Guaido formally launched the distribution operation at a warehouse at the Tienditas border bridge, in Cucuta, Colombia.
"The humanitarian aid is definitely going to Venezuela in a peaceful and calm manner to save lives at this time," said Guaido, joined for the launch by the presidents of Colombia, Chile and Paraguay.
He later announced that an aid truck had crossed into Venezuela on its southern border with Brazil. However, AFP reporters there witnessed a truck halted at the border which had yet to cross. People from a local indigenous community were headed to the crossing to try to pressure troops to let in the aid.
Early Saturday two large trucks carrying eight tonnes of emergency aid left Boa Vista in Brazil en route to the Venezuelan border. The vehicles are driven by Venezuelans and escorted by Brazilian police, organizers said.
"We officially announce that the first shipment of humanitarian aid has now entered our border with Brazil. This is a great achievement, Venezuela!" wrote Guaido in a tweet.
Demonstrators waiting for aid in Urena on the Venezuelan side of the Colombian border clashed with National Guard troops, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets.
In the confusion, four National Guard members abandoned their posts and crossed into Colombia.
Violence later spread to nearby San Antonio del Tachira, after soldiers blocked hundreds of people from reaching a border bridge to bring in aid. AFP reporters said shots were fired in the town after armed men arrived on motorcycles.
Guaido has vowed humanitarian aid would enter his country on Saturday despite a blockade.
His supporters plan to drive the aid from Colombia into Venezuela at the closed border crossings supported by a flood of volunteers and accompanied by Catholic priests in an attempt to avoid arrest.
Socialist leader Maduro has rejected the aid, which he's dismissed as a show and pretext for a US invasion.
Meanwhile, thousands of opposition and pro-Maduro supporters turned out at rival rallies in the capital Caracas.
- Battle over Aid-
Humanitarian aid has become the centerpiece of the stand-off between Maduro and Guaido, the 35-year-old leader of Venezuela's National Assembly who declared himself interim president exactly one month ago Saturday. Guaido has accused Maduro of rigging his re-election and is demanding a new vote.
Venezuela is gripped by a humanitarian crisis that has seen poverty soar during years of recession.
As many as 300,000 Venezuelans are in dire need of food and medicine after years of shortages and malnutrition, according to Guaido.
United Nations figures show that some 2.7 million people have fled Venezuela since 2015 amid the crisis, and some 5,000 Venezuelans emigrate from their country each day.
On the eve of the face-off Guaido defied a government ban on leaving the country and attended the "Venezuela Live Aid" concert organized by British billionaire Richard Branson just over the border in Colombia.
Guaido sensationally claimed that the Venezuelan military, whose high command has repeatedly declared absolute loyalty to Maduro, "participated in this process" to get him into Colombia.
Hours later, Caracas said it had closed much of the Colombian border, citing threats to Venezuela's security.
-UN plea -
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Venezuelan authorities to refrain from using lethal force against protesters.
The "Venezuela Live Aid" concert, which featured some of the biggest names in Spanish-language music, was broadcast live online.
Branson said he hopes to raise $100 million for humanitarian aid over the next 60 days via internet donations. Meanwhile aid is being stockpiled in Colombia, Brazil and the Caribbean island of Curacao because of Maduro's ban.
Guaido rallied his supporters when he showed up at the concert on Friday joined by Colombian President Ivan Duque, Chile's Sebastian Pinera and Mario Abdo of Paraguay. The leaders greeted the crowd before the concert ended.
Maduro's rival concert, decidedly smaller and featuring Cuban and local artists, began hours later nearby on the Venezuelan side of the border in Urena.
Performers took to the stage against a giant backdrop emblazoned with the words "#Trump Hands off Venezuela," with around 2,500 people in attendance.
"We don't want to be interfered with, we don't want to be invaded," said Johana Suarez.
Maduro, who has support from China, Russia and the military high command, accuses the United States of plotting a military intervention.
Moscow has blasted Washington for using aid as a "convenient pretext for conducting military action."
Venezuela Military Backs Maduro, on 'Alert' for Border Violations by Maria Isabel Sanchez
Venezuela's military reaffirmed its support for embattled President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday and said they were on "alert" for border violations following threats by US President Donald Trump who urged them to back opposition leader Juan Guaido.
"The armed forces will remain deployed and on alert along the borders ... to avoid any violations of territorial integrity," said Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, reading out a statement in a public appearance alongside top commanders.
"We reiterate unrestrictedly our obedience, subordination and loyalty" to Maduro, he added.
Maduro, 56, faces calls to quit as his country struggles with shortages of food and medicine.
The military high command has so far maintained its public backing for Maduro -- seen as key to keeping him in power.
Guaido, leader of the Venezuelan legislature, has declared himself acting president and is appealing to military leaders to switch allegiance to him.
He posted a series of tweets calling by name on senior military leaders commanding border posts to abandon Maduro, whom he has branded illegitimate over the socialist leader's disputed reelection last year.
He is backed by the United States and some 50 other countries.
- Maduro or the homeland -
The United States has sent food and medical aid for Venezuela, currently stockpiled over the border in Colombia, but the military has so far refused to let it enter the country.
Last week, Guaido said the aid would enter Venezuela this coming Saturday, regardless of the military opposition.
Bringing in aid is crucial to Guaido's challenge to Maduro's authority.
The 35-year-old has offered military commanders an amnesty if they abandon Maduro.
On Tuesday, he sent an identical Twitter message to 11 generals saying: "On February 23 you have to choose between serving Maduro or serving the homeland. Let in the humanitarian aid."
Trump has refused to rule out US military action in Venezuela. He raised the pressure on Monday, issuing a warning to the Venezuelan military.
He told them that if they continue to support Maduro, "you will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You will lose everything."
Padrino rejected Trump's threat, branding the US president "arrogant."
Maduro's government says the aid is a smokescreen for an invasion.
If foreign powers try to help install a new government by force, they will have to do so "over our dead bodies," Padrino said.
- 'Pack of lies' -
Although sitting on the world's biggest oil reserves, Venezuela is gripped by a humanitarian crisis.
It has suffered four years of recession marked by astronomical hyperinflation that the International Monetary Fund says will reach 10 million percent in 2019.
An estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans have left the country since 2015.
Guaido says 300,000 people face death without the aid but Maduro denies there is a humanitarian crisis.
Padrino said the military would not be "blackmailed" by "a pack of lies and manipulations" and accused Trump and Guaido of portraying "supposed humanitarian aid" as a clash between the armed forces and the people.
Maduro announced on Monday that 300 tons of Russian aid would reach Venezuela on Wednesday. He previously announced the arrival of aid from China, Cuba and Russia, his main international allies.
The military has placed freight containers and tankers across the Colombian border bridge the aid would need to cross.
Guaido urged supporters to write to the 11 generals "from the heart, with arguments, without violence, without insults," expressing why they should support the opposition.
The army previously announced a "special deployment plan" for the 2,200-kilometer (1,370-mile) border with Colombia.
Besides shortages of basic necessities, Venezuelans face failing public services such as electricity, water and transport.
- One million target -
The opposition has plans to open two more aid collection centers this week in Brazil and the Dutch island of Curacao, just off Venezuela's northern coast.
Guaido has already enlisted the support of 700,000 people to help bring in the aid on Saturday, but has said he wants a million to have signed up by then.
On Tuesday he thanked France, Britain, Italy, Spain and Germany for pledging "more than $18 million for the humanitarian aid."
France has also sent 70 tons of medicines and food.
Maduro has dismissed the humanitarian assistance as "crumbs" and "rotten and contaminated food," while laying the blame for economic hardship on US sanctions.
The government also said on Monday it will stage a concert on the Colombian border Friday to Saturday, when Richard Branson has said he will hold a pro-aid concert just over the frontier.
Trump Sees 'New Day' for Latin America at Miami Rally
By Zeke Miller
President Donald Trump said Monday that ``a new day is coming in Latin America,'' as he sought to rally support among the largest Venezuelan community in the U.S. for opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Speaking at Florida International University in Miami before large American and Venezuelan flags, Trump said the U.S. stands behind Guaido, whom the U.S. recognizes as the country's rightful president, and condemns President Nicolas Maduro's government and its socialist policies.
As the monthslong political crisis stretched on, Trump delivered a public plea to Venezuela's military to support Guaido's government. The Venezuelan military could play a decisive role in the stalemate but has largely remained loyal to Maduro.
Trump issued a dire warning to Venezuela's military that if they continue to stand with Maduro, ``you will find no safe harbour, no easy exit and no way out. You will lose everything.''
Trump added: ``We seek a peaceful transition of power, but all options are open.''
The military has blocked the U.S. from moving tons of humanitarian aid airlifted in recent days to the Colombian border with Venezuela. The aid shipments have been meant in part to dramatize the hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine that are gripping Venezuela. Trump said of Maduro, ``He would rather see his people starve than give them aid.''
Critics say Maduro's re-election last year was fraudulent, making his second term illegal.
Venezuela's power struggle is headed to a potentially violent showdown Saturday, when Guaido will try to run caravans of U.S. humanitarian aid across the Venezuelan border with Colombia. Maduro denies a humanitarian crisis exists, blaming the Trump administration for mounting a coup against him.
Venezuela is ready to make an economic rebound once Trump removes his ``infected hand'' from the country that sits atop the world's largest petroleum reserves, Maduro said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
Trump urged the Venezuelan military to accept Guaido's offer of amnesty and refrain from violence against those opposing Maduro's government. And he praised the Venezuelan opposition, saying of the people of Venezuela, ``They are turning the page on dictatorship and there will be no going back.''
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said earlier Monday that the U.S. ``knows where military officials and their families have money hidden throughout the world.''
South Florida is home to more than 100,000 Venezuelans and Venezuelan-Americans, the largest concentration in the country. Speaking in the presidential battleground state, Trump also sought to draw a contrast with the policies of progressive Democrats, which he brands as ``socialist,'' as he gears up for re-election.
Trump said that ``Socialism has so completely ravaged'' Venezuela ``that even the world's largest reserves of oil are not enough to keep the lights on.'' He added: ``This will never happen to us.''
``Socialism promises prosperity, but it delivers poverty,'' he said.
Trump was introduced by first lady Melania Trump and joined by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, who have all been outspoken in their criticism of Maduro's government. Trump also spoke of the socialist governments in Cuba and Nicaragua, which have large expatriate communities in the Miami area.
``Socialism is dying and liberty, prosperity and democracy are being reborn'' throughout the hemisphere, Trump said, expressing hope that soon, ``This will become the first free hemisphere in all of human history.''
Shortly after Trump ended his speech, he tweeted, ``I ask every member of the Maduro regime: End this nightmare of poverty, hunger and death. LET YOUR PEOPLE GO. Set your country free! Now is the time for all Venezuelan Patriots to act together, as one united people. Nothing could be better for the future of Venezuela!''
Guaido addressed the crowd in a pre-recorded video released by the White House and thanked Trump and the state of Florida for their support.
``Now there is a debate between the democracy and dictatorship _ one between life and death,'' Guaido said in Spanish. ``Today this fight is existential.''
Trump said the U.S. is ``profoundly grateful'' to dissidents and exiles who have protested and raised alarms about the actions of the Maduro government. But his administration has also come under criticism for not doing enough to grant asylum to those fleeing the country.
``President Trump is two-faced on the Venezuela issue,'' said Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo. ``He talks about fighting the Maduro regime, but his administration keeps deporting and detaining Venezuelans fleeing repression from the Maduro regime.''
Trump had been spending the holiday weekend at his private club in West Palm Beach, Florida.
The Canadian Press & the Associated Press. All rights are reserved.
Venezuela's Guaido Calls for 'Million Volunteers' in Aid Standoff By Maria Isabel Sanchez
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido set a goal Sunday of enlisting a million volunteers within a week to confront a government blockade that has kept tons of humanitarian aid, most of it from the United States, from flowing into the country.
Guaido has given February 23 -- one month to the day after he proclaimed himself acting president -- as the date for a showdown over the aid with the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
Food supplies, hygiene kits and nutritional supplements have been stockpiled near the Venezuelan border in Cucuta, Colombia.
Additional storage centers are supposed to open this week in Brazil and Curacao, a Dutch island off Venezuela's northern Caribbean coast.
"Our principal task is to reach a million volunteers by February 23," Guaido said in a message to the 600,000 supporters who have signed up so far for the push to bring aid in.
He said the volunteers would gather at designated points, or participate on social media.
Caravans of buses are being planned to carry volunteers to border entry points to meet and transport arriving cargo, but Guaido has kept to himself how he plans to overcome the obstacles put up by the Venezuelan military, on Maduro's orders.
Volunteer groups have already begun meeting in so-called "humanitarian camps" in several Venezuelan states to organize and prepare for the arrival of aid. Sometimes working under awnings or tents, doctors, nurses, dentists and pediatricians have attended to local residents in need.
An imploding economy has driven an estimated 2.3 Venezuelans to migrate, while those who remain have been punished by hyperinflation that has put scarce food and medicine out of reach for many.
Maduro, who denies the existence of a humanitarian crisis, dismisses the opposition moves as a "political show" and a cover for a US invasion.
- 'Humanitarian avalanche' -
"Venezuela is preparing for the humanitarian avalanche," Guaido told about 4,000 supporters clad in white T-shirts and green scarves who gathered Saturday to sign up as volunteers.
Coromoto Crespo, 58, told AFP he volunteered because of the urgent need for supplies.
"To find medicines requires a miracle. I need tablets for high blood pressure, and what I find, I can't pay for," Crespo said.
"One of my relatives died because of a lack of antibiotics."
- US senator arrives -
US Senator Marco Rubio, meanwhile, arrived Sunday in Cucuta for a first-hand look at the aid operations. He met with officials at the collection point and visited the Simon Bolivar international bridge linking Colombia and Venezuela.
Guaido, in a tweet, thanked Rubio for his "noble effort to achieve humanitarian aid."
Three US military cargo planes delivered several dozen more tons (tonnes) of food assistance to Cucuta on Saturday.
Another US aircraft is due in Curacao from Miami on Tuesday, and a collection center for Brazilian aid will open Monday on the border, Guaido's team said.
Saturday's shipment was accompanied by a delegation led by Mark Green, head of the US Agency for International Development.
The aid "will come in, yes oh yes, by land and sea," Guaido said.
On Friday, Maduro instructed his army to prepare a "special deployment plan" for the 2,200-kilometer (1,370-mile) border with Colombia.
Maduro has poured scorn on the aid, spurning it as "crumbs" and "rotten and contaminated food" while blaming shortages of food and medicine on US sanctions.
He said six million families had benefited from subsidized food boxes and he claimed to have bought 933 tons of medicines and medical supplies from China, Cuba and Russia, his main international allies.
"We paid for it with our own money because we're beggars to no one," Maduro said.
On another front, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza confirmed having held two meetings with special US envoy Elliott Abrams. Arreaza, who traveled to New York on February 13, said he held the talks with Abrams at the request of the State Department. He declined to comment on the substance of their discussions.
Guaido repeated his call on Venezuela's military -- whose support for Maduro has been crucial -- to let the aid pass.
He also announced that British billionaire Richard Branson was organizing a concert for February 22 in Cucuta with renowned international artists to raise money for the relief effort.
Venezuela's Guaido Announces Aid Will Enter on February 23 Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido announced on Tuesday that desperately-needed humanitarian aid would be brought into the country on February 23, despite opposition from President Nicolas Maduro.
US aid has been piling up in Colombia at the border with Venezuela but until now the bridge border crossing has been barricaded by the military, under Maduro's orders.
Guaido, who declared himself acting president last month, announced the date at a rally by tens of thousands of opposition supporters to pressure the military to allow in the aid.
He asked the 250,000 people who signed up as volunteers to organize themselves over the weekend, "because we're going to have to go in caravans."
"We have almost 300,000 Venezuelans who will die if the aid doesn't enter. There are almost two million at health risk," said Guaido, recognized as Venezuela's interim leader by 50 countries.
Maduro denies there is a humanitarian crisis and has branded the whole affair a "political show" and pretext for a US-led invasion.
"It's sure that the humanitarian aid will enter Venezuela because the usurper will have no choice but to leave Venezuela," said Guaido, referring to Maduro, whom he deems illegitimate over his reelection last year in a poll widely viewed as fraudulent.
"It's not the first time Venezuela is going to be liberated from a tyrant -- it's not the first time but we hope it will be the last," added the National Assembly president.
Venezuelans have faced shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicines as the economy went into meltdown under Maduro's leadership.
Some 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015, according to the United Nations.
Those left behind have faced failing public services while hyperinflation has left salaries and savings worthless.
"Here is a direct order to the armed forces: allow in the humanitarian aid once and for all (and) end the repression," said Guaido, 35, who stunned the world on January 23 when he launched his challenge to Maduro's authority by declaring himself acting president.
Venezuela Opposition Announces New Aid Hub, Prepares Protest By Maria Isabel Sanchez
Venezuela's opposition announced Monday a new collection center for desperately-needed supplies as it prepares to "send a message" to the military that's blocking humanitarian aid from entering the crisis-wracked country with a mass street protest.
Opposition chief Juan Guaido, now recognized by 50 countries as Venezuela's interim president, will lead a rally on Tuesday as he steps up pressure on beleaguered President Nicolas Maduro and tries to force the military to back down and allow in the aid.
Venezuela is in the midst of a disastrous economic crisis marked by hyperinflation, recession and shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicines. The UN says some 2.3 million people have fled the country since 2015.
Guaido says 300,000 people risk death if the supplies donated by the United States and others, stockpiled at Venezuela's border with Colombia, are not brought in soon.
"We're mobilizing all over the country to ensure the humanitarian aid enters so we can deal with this crisis," said Guaido.
He said that blocking the aid would constitute a "crime against humanity," but top military leaders still stand with leftist leader Maduro.
Guaido says almost 100,000 Venezuelans have signed up as volunteers to help bring in the aid and distribute it to those most in need.
- Second storage center -
Maduro refuses to buckle, though, branding the aid convoys massing in Colombia a "political show" and a pretext for a US intervention.
Humanitarian aid has become a key factor in the power struggle between Guaido, who last month proclaimed himself acting president, and Maduro.
National Assembly president Guaido's envoys met with Brazilian officials in Brasilia and announced plans to establish a second aid storage center in the state of Roraima, on Venezuela's southeastern border.
Guaido's ambassador to Brazil, Maria Teresa Belandria, said she had received assurances from Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo over the new aid center.
Lester Toledo, head of Guaido's aid distribution team, told reporters that the Roraima center would start receiving supplies next week.
But Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino announced that the armed forces were deploying a "reinforced presence all along the border."
On Sunday, dozens of doctors protested on the Venezuelan side of the border demanding the aid, which started arriving at the Colombian town of Cucuta on Thursday, be allowed into the country.
But the military has blockaded the border bridge linking the two countries.
"This a crime against humanity, men of the armed forces," Guaido said Sunday.
He has offered amnesty for any members of the armed forces who disavow Maduro, in a bid to break the president's backbone of power.
The parliament speaker wants to oust Maduro and set up a transitional government ahead of new elections. To do so, he needs the support of the armed forces.
Guaido will press the Organization of American States to provide support to hold new presidential elections, his representative to the body Gustavo Tarre said ahead of Friday's special meeting at the OAS on the situation in Venezuela.
"The observation of the OAS is a guarantee, it has a great weight for the moral prestige of the organization and it has the technical capacity to help us set up a transparent process," Tarre told reporters after meeting in Washington with Francisco Guerrero, who leads the OAS Secretariat for Strengthening Democracy.
However, he stressed that in order to be impartial, holding elections will take time.
"We want everything to go as quickly as possible, but holding elections in a month is impossible. We do not currently have any electoral mechanism that works because everything has been tarnished by fraud. In Venezuela, voters vote but do not choose, and we will change that."
Speaking to AFP last week, Guaido refused to rule out eliciting foreign intervention.
The Venezuelan military meanwhile announced it had started conducting exercises, set to run until Friday, to "reinforce the country's defensive capacity."
- Financial probe into Guaido -
Venezuela's financial accountability authority announced a probe into Guaido's income, saying he had "allegedly... received money from international and national bodies without any justification."
Two weeks ago, the regime loyalist-dominated Supreme Court barred him from leaving the country and froze his assets.
Tuesday's march, in part to remember the estimated 40 people killed in clashes between protesters and the security services since January 21, aims to increase the pressure on Maduro to step aside.
Guaido warned that the military would be held responsible for the deaths of protesters.
The US is using sanctions as an attempt to starve Maduro's regime of its funding.
More than 40 percent of Venezuela's oil, which makes up 96 percent of its revenue, is sold to the US.
Pope Francis has said he would be prepared to mediate between the rival leaders but Guaido has rejected negotiations with Maduro, believing he would use them to buy time.
While keen on papal mediation, Maduro was less impressed last week when a group of European and Latin American ministers called for new presidential elections. Maduro accused them of bias.
Last week, he also rejected a call by European Union countries to hold elections, prompting them to recognize Guaido.
Venezuela's Guaido Warns Military on Blocked Aid By Maria Isabel Sanchez
Opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by some 50 countries as Venezuela's interim president, warned the military Sunday that blocking humanitarian aid from entering the country is a "crime against humanity."
The warning comes as international aid has taken center stage in a test of wills between Guaido and President Nicolas Maduro in which Venezuela's armed forces are seen as the pivotal player.
Medicine and food sent by the United States has been blocked for three days on the border in Cucuta, Colombia after Venezuelan soldiers closed a bridge linking the two countries.
On the Venezuelan side of the border, dozens of doctors protested Sunday demanding the aid be allowed in -- including surgeon Jose Luis Mateus de la Riva, who accused Maduro of sinking Venezuelan medicine back to the "medieval era."
"There are people responsible for this and the regime should know it," Guaido said after attending Sunday mass with his wife and 20-month-old baby. "This a crime against humanity, men of the armed forces."
Accusing those blocking aid of being "almost genocidal," he likewise warned that the military would be held responsible for the deaths of protesters -- and reaffirmed his call for a mass march on Tuesday in memory of the estimated 40 people killed in disturbances since January 21.
Guaido has offered amnesty for any members of the armed forces who disavows Maduro -- but the military leadership still publicly backs the president.
On Sunday, the Venezuelan military announced it had started conducting exercises, set to run until February 15 across the country, to "reinforce the country's defensive capacity."
- 'Political show' -
Maduro has rejected humanitarian aid as a US ploy to intervene in Venezuela, calling the deployment of aid a "political show" and blaming US sanctions for the country's widespread shortages of food and medicine.
Guaido countered that the regime was refusing to acknowledge a "crisis that they themselves generated," while Venezuelans were working to deal with the humanitarian emergency.
Speaking to AFP Friday, Guaido vowed to do "whatever necessary" to "stop the usurpation" of power and "save lives" -- without ruling out the possibility of authorizing foreign intervention.
And on Sunday, he said hundreds of volunteers had signed up over the weekend to help bring aid into Venezuela -- with further shipments set to arrive in neighboring Brazil and on a Caribbean island.
Suffering the worst crisis of its modern history, Venezuelans have had to grapple with life-threatening scarcities amid eye-popping levels of hyperinflation that have rendered salaries and savings worthless.
According to the United Nations, some 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015.
But Guaido on Sunday reiterated that he would not negotiate with Maduro -- as he believes Maduro would use such talks to buy himself time.
"Democracy is closer than ever before, the future is ours," he said.
An international Contact Group, made up of European and Latin American countries, called for snap presidential elections following a meeting in Montevideo this week.
But Maduro, who has asked Pope Francis to act as a mediator, rejected what he said was "bias" by the group.
Last week Maduro also rejected a call by European Union countries to hold elections, prompting them to recognize Guaido.
Guaido, the 35 year-old head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, stunned Venezuela in January by declaring himself interim president after the legislature declared Maduro a "usurper" following his May 2018 reelection in a vote disputed by the opposition and international community.
Venezuela's Guaido: 'We Will Do What is Necessary' by Alexander Martinez
Opposition leader Juan Guaido is challenging President Nicolas Maduro for control of crisis-hit Venezuela, a country plagued by hyperinflation, shortages of basic necessities and rampant violence.
Guaido has declared himself interim president and has been recognized as such by dozens of countries, but Maduro, buoyed by support from the armed forces, has declined to step aside.
In an interview with AFP, Guaido discusses the entry of foreign aid, contact with the military and whether he would be willing to allow the highly-controversial step of foreign military intervention.
- Foreign military intervention -
-Question: Would you use your prerogatives as speaker of the National Assembly and acting president to authorize the intervention of foreign military forces?
"We will do everything possible, once again, this is obviously a very, very controversial subject, but making use of our sovereignty and, within our jurisdictions, we will do what is necessary."
- Entry of foreign aid -
-Question: How is the entry of humanitarian aid advancing?
"When we have sufficient supplies, we are going to make a first entry attempt. We know that there is a blockade in Tienditas (on the border with Colombia)."
"The armed forces have a huge dilemma, whether or not to accept the aid. It would be almost miserable at this point of huge necessity not to accept it."
-Question: When will the first attempt be?
"I think it's going to be next week, when we have formed the corps of volunteers and organized the distribution process."
- Contact with the military -
-Question: Why do you think the offer of amnesty for members of the military has not yet produced a massive defection from high command?
"We have to go deeper into that, we saw a division general speak openly a few days ago, we saw some sergeants of the National Guard show discontent and they are being tortured."
"Part of what we have to overcome is explaining very well that (the armed forces) have a role in the reconstruction."
- Russia and China-
-Question: Have you had contact with officials from Russia and China (which are allies of Maduro)?
"I am sure that Moscow and Beijing know the situation in Venezuela really well: Maduro doesn't have the popular support and he can't stabilize the economy, which produced the world's largest inflation of two million percent."
- Negotiated solution -
-Question: Would you receive emissaries of the International Contact Group seeking a negotiated solution?
"We are ready to talk with everyone, with a very specific agenda."
- Pope's position -
-Question: Does the position of Pope Francis seem lukewarm?
"He did not receive anyone from the government, he does not even take them into account anymore."
Venezuela's Maduro Vows to Block 'Fake' Aid 'Spectacle' By Maria Isabel Sanchez with Juan Restrepo in Cucuta
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro vowed Friday not to let in "fake" aid from the United States requested by opposition leader Juan Guaido that is being stockpiled at the border with Colombia.
"Venezuela won't allow the spectacle of fake humanitarian aid because we're no one's beggars," Maduro said at a press conference in Caracas.
He also hit out at European and Latin American ministers who called for a new presidential ballot.
Meeting in Uruguay's capital Montevideo on Thursday, the International Contact Group urged "free, transparent and credible presidential elections" in crisis-wracked Venezuela "as soon as possible" to find a peaceful solution to the power struggle between Maduro and Guaido.
Under Maduro's direction, Venezuela has descended into economic chaos marked by hyperinflation, recession and shortages of basic necessities, including food and medicine.
Guaido has claimed 300,000 people could die if Maduro doesn't allow the humanitarian aid to enter.
Several trucks carrying food and medicine arrived at a collection center in the Colombian border town of Cucuta on Thursday.
Venezuelan migrants gathered there to see if they could receive some aid.
However, on the other side of the Tienditas border bridge, Venezuelan troops loyal to Maduro had blocked the road, heightening tensions with Washington.
- Military 'dilemma' -
Guaido, who has appealed to the military to back him, said the armed forces "have a dilemma: either they side with the people in need or with the dictatorship."
Bringing in aid is central to the National Assembly president's challenge to Maduro's authority, as are street protests, the next of which will take place on Wednesday.
The 35-year-old Guaido caused shockwaves in Venezuelan politics on January 23 when he declared himself acting president, a move quickly backed by the US and subsequently around 40 countries.
Maduro has the backing of China, Russia, Turkey and leftist regional allies Cuba and Bolivia.
The 56-year-old said Venezuela's humanitarian crisis has been "fabricated by Washington" to justify an "intervention" in the South American country.
He blamed shortages of food and medicine on US sanctions, which mostly target regime individuals as well as state oil company PDVSA.
"Liberate the money that has been blocked and sequestered," said Maduro, who has repeatedly accused the US of fomenting a coup.
"This is a macabre game: we squeeze them by the neck and make them ask for crumbs."
He said the aid offer was "a message of humiliation for the people."
Guaido's representative in Cucuta, Lester Toledo, said the provisions already delivered were the "first drops" and promised "a tsunami of humanitarian aid" would follow.
"We're going to open a humanitarian corridor and the doors to freedom," he told journalists.
Early Wednesday, a Venezuelan military boat carrying 100 tons (tonnes) of aid landed in Havana to help Cubans recovering from the wrath of a tornado.
- Time running out for Maduro -
Guaido is trying to force Maduro from power, aiming to set up a transitional government and hold presidential elections.
He claims his legitimacy from the constitution, but Maduro -- labeled a dictator by the West and his Latin American neighbors -- insists his re-election last year was constitutional.
The US, EU and many Latin American countries branded it a fraud as prominent opposition leaders were unable to stand after being exiled, jailed or barred.
Consultants Eurasia Group said Thursday that time was running out for Maduro as his traditional allies Russia and China are "unlikely to lend (him) meaningful support," reinforcing its view that the socialist leader "will be unable to sustain his regime."
Turning his ire on the Contact Group, Maduro fumed: "You don't listen to the truth in Venezuela. You're deaf... They've taken extremist positions."
The Contact Group had urged Maduro to allow in aid and said it would send a mission to Venezuela to discuss how to "establish the necessary guarantees for a credible electoral process, as soon as possible."
Maduro, who last weekend rejected an EU ultimatum to organize snap presidential elections, said he would welcome the mission.
The Contact Group, which says it includes countries with a "neutral" perspective on the Venezuela crisis, chided Maduro over the deaths of 40 opposition protesters last month.
It also told the socialist leader to "restore full democracy, the rule of law, the separation of powers and respect for the constitutional mandate of the country's institutions, particularly the democratically elected National Assembly."
The opposition-controlled legislature has been powerless since 2016 after it was stripped of its powers by the Supreme Court, made up of regime loyalists.
On Friday, the Supreme Court asked the attorney general's office to investigate alleged "criminal" conduct by Guaido and the legislature over the "usurpation of functions" that correspond to Maduro.
Guaido Strengthened by Europe Backing as Venezuela Leader By Maria Isabel Sanchez with Marianne Barriaux in Madrid
International clamor for snap elections in Venezuela intensified Monday as European powers recognized opposition chief Juan Guaido as interim leader after President Nicolas Maduro rejected their ultimatum to call presidential polls.
Spain, Britain and France were among 15 EU nations to side with Guaido on Monday. But key Maduro ally Russia slammed European "interference" in the oil-rich but impoverished Latin American country, saying it was an attempt "to legitimise usurped power."
Guaido thanked each EU country in turn on Twitter "for supporting all Venezuelans in this struggle we undertake to rescue our nation's democracy, freedom and justice."
Claiming his legitimacy from the constitution, the 35-year-old National Assembly leader shocked the world when he proclaimed himself interim president on January 23, setting up a tense standoff with Maduro.
Both men headed rival massive street rallies in Caracas on Saturday. Despite Guaido's pleas for their support, the armed forces -- the country's key power -- have remained loyal to Maduro.
The opposition leader has expressed confidence he will win the backing of senior officers after a top air force general publicly sided with him on Saturday.
Guaido is trying to force from power the socialist leader -- labelled a dictator by the West and his Latin American neighbors after presiding over Venezuela's economic collapse -- aiming to set up a transitional government and hold new presidential elections.
"We want freedom and democracy to return to Venezuela ASAP," said Stef Blok, foreign minsiter of the Netherlands which was among the EU states to recognize Guaido.
"Last chance for the corrupt Maduro regime to choose the path of democracy," Denmark's Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen tweeted.
After announcing Madrid's recognition of Guaido, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said he wanted Spain to spearhead a plan of humanitarian aid for Venezuela in the European Union and United Nations.
A defiant Maduro reserved particular anger for Sanchez.
"No-one puts an ultimatum on Venezuela, neither you Mr Pedro Sanchez nor anyone else in the world."
He said the Spanish leader was "a wimp who puts himself at the service of Washington's warmongering."
- 'Confrontation' -
France, Germany, Britain, Portugal, Austria, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, the Czech Republic and Luxembourg also recognised Guaido. Ten EU countries have yet to announce their position.
The cascade of support from EU countries came after the passing of a Sunday deadline initially set by seven EU states for Maduro to call presidential elections or they would recognise Guaido.
Maduro flatly rejected the election demands in an interview with Spanish television, insisting he would not be "cornered" by ultimatums or "cave in to pressure" from those calling for his departure.
Venezuela's foreign ministry hit back on Monday, saying it would "review" its diplomatic relations with EU states over their recognition of Gauido, saying they were effectively supporting plans for a coup.
Maduro began a new term in office last month after 2018 elections that were branded invalid by the opposition.
He has said he is only willing to call new elections to the opposition-held National Assembly.
However, he supported plans for a meeting of Latin American and EU states in a "Contact Group" in Montevideo on Thursday.
At the beginning of a week of intense diplomacy, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged $40 million in humanitarian aid for Venezuelans as he hosted a meeting of the Lima Group of nations in Ottawa.
- Humanitarian crisis -
The US and other countries have also pledged humanitarian aid for Guaido's administration, though it remains to be seen where and how it can enter the country without the military's support.
Maduro has rejected all offers of aid, dismissing it as the thin edge of a wedge of US military involvement.
At the weekend, Guaido called on the army to allow in humanitarian aid from the United States via neighbouring Colombia and Brazil.
He says up to 300,000 people are "at risk of death" in Venezuela for want of humanitarian assistance.
Under Maduro's stewardship, oil-dependent Venezuela has plunged into an economic crisis, suffering from hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine.
On Monday, oil prices rose to their highest level yet this year on European markets on the back of the crisis in Venezuela.
US President Donald Trump warned that military intervention remains "an option" for dealing with the crisis in Venezuela.
On Sunday, Maduro addressed troops on military exercises, calling on them for "maximum cohesion".
Tens of thousands of people turned out Saturday for competing shows of support for Guaido and for Maduro.
Guaido has called for a new demonstration on February 12 and another protest to push for the entry of aid.
Forty people were killed in clashes with security forces in a week of protests coinciding with Guaido's self-proclamation as acting leader, with hundreds more arrested, according to the United Nations.
Venezuela's Guaido Urges Military Defections Amid Protests
By Manuel Rueda & Fabiola Sanchez
CARACAS, Venezuela _ Venezuela's opposition leader called on more members of the military to abandon the country's socialist government following Saturday's defection of a top general, as 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 Venezuela's political standoff since challenger Juan Guaido, the United States and other nations have called for a new presidential election and the opposition-controlled National Assembly is led by Guaido, who has declared himself interim president. Government supporters control the powerful Constituent Assembly.
Speaking from behind a podium decorated with Venezuela's presidential seal, Guaido told cheering supporters he would keep his opposition movement in the streets until Maduro stopped ``usurping'' the country's presidency and agreed to organize a new presidential election overseen by international observers.
Tens of thousands of Venezuelans joined opposition protests called by the 35-year-old in Caracas and other Venezuela 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 that 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 U.S.-led coup attempt.
``I agree that the legislative power of the country be re-legitimized and that we hold free elections with guarantees, and the people choose a new National Assembly,'' Maduro said at a pro-government demonstration in the capital of Caracas.
The socialist leader also had words for the administration of President Donald Trump which recently imposed sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports in an effort to undermine Maduro's main source of income and weaken his grip on power.
``Do you think you are the emperor of the world?'' he asked Trump. ``Do you think Venezuela is going to give up and obey your orders? We will not surrender.''
The standoff comes amid what appears to be growing dissension among the ranks of Venezuela's powerful military.
Earlier Saturday, a Venezuelan air force general defected from Maduro's administration and called on his compatriots to participate in protests against the socialist leader's rule.
Gen. Francisco Yanez is the first high ranking officer to leave Maduro's government since Jan. 23, when Guaido declared himself the country's legitimate leader by invoking two articles of the Venezuelan constitution that he argues give him the right to assume presidential powers.
In a YouTube video, Yanez described Maduro as a dictator and referred to Guaido as his president. He didn't say if he was still in Venezuela or had left the country.
The officer confirmed in a phone call with The Associated Press, from a Colombian number, the veracity of his declaration and said he would not provide further statements until given authorization by ``the commander-in-chief of the legal armed force, which is President Juan Guaido.''
The military controls some of Venezuela's key assets including the state run oil company, and until now, its top brass has helped Maduro to survive rounds of mass protests in 2014 and 2017 by jailing activists and repressing protesters.
Yanez said in his video that ``90 per cent of the military'' is against Maduro, but it is unclear how many will actively support the opposition.
Shortly after protests broke out against Maduro last week, Venezuela's most important regional military commanders and its defence minister issued a statement in support of Maduro, describing Guaido as a coup monger backed by Washington.
Venezuela's aerospace command of the armed forces shared a picture of Yanez on its Twitter account with the words ``traitor'' above it.
``We reject the declarations made by General Yanez who betrayed his oath of loyalty to our nation and chose to follow foreign plans,'' the command wrote.
On Saturday, Maduro said he was willing to sit down for talks with the opposition in an effort to promote national ``harmony.''
But that offer has been rejected by Guaido, who describes it as a ploy by the Maduro administration to buy time.
Previous talks between the government and opposition have failed to change electoral conditions in the South American country, and many political leaders have been forced into exile.
At a pro-Maduro rally, supporters blamed the opposition for undermining the Bolivarian Revolution with years of protests and seeking financial sanctions against the Venezuelan government.
Zeleyka Muskus, a 53-year-old tax collector from Caracas, said the opposition was responsible for the country's current economic woes, saying they have staged years of protests that have gotten people injured and killed.
``Chavez is the love of my life,'' she said, referring to late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
Other public workers attending the pro-government demonstration said they had been forced to go there by their bosses.
Meanwhile, streams of marchers from middle-class and poor neighbourhoods walked to another part of the capital and said they were demanding Maduro's resignation and a transitional government that would hold new presidential elections in the South American country.
Xiomara Espinoza, 59, said she felt a change of energy in the crowd, whose hopes for a transition in Venezuela have previously been dashed.
``We are around the corner from freedom,'' she said, banging on a pot and wearing a Venezuelan flag.
Associated Press writers Scott Smith, Joshua Goodman and Jorge Rueda contributed reporting from Caracas, Venezuela.
The Canadian Press & the Associated Press. All rights are reserved.
Maduro Proposes Holding Early an Election
Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro has proposed holding early elections for the National Assembly as he seeks to outmanoeuvr a renewed opposition that is trying to use its control of the legislature to challenge his rule.
Maduro in a speech to supporters Saturday said it would be up to the pro-government constitutional assembly to decide whether or not to back his proposal.
Elections for the opposition-controlled National Assembly aren't supposed to take place again until 2020.
National Assembly President Juan Guaido is leading a charge to force Maduro from power after he took the oath of office last month for a second, six-year term widely considered illegitimate.
Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido says humanitarian assistance will begin flowing into the crisis-wracked country within the next few days, despite the objections of President Nicolas Maduro.
Guaido made the announcement Saturday speaking before tens of thousands of cheering supporters who took to the streets of Caracas demanding that Maduro step down from power.
Guaido said supplies of badly needed food and medicine will start entering from the Colombian border town of Cucuta. He said assistance will also come from two more unnamed entry points.
Loyalists of Maduro's socialist government flooded the streets in a different part of the capital Saturday to celebrate 20 years since Hugo Chavez launched the Bolivarian revolution.
Thousands of public employees and government supporters have begun to concentrate on Caracas' downtown Bolivar Avenue.
Some danced to popular songs, while a banner included a large photo of late President Hugo Chavez and read: ``20 years of popular victories.''
The socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro called the rally to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Chavez's rise to power.
Meanwhile, thousands of anti-government protesters are carrying Venezuelan flags and descending on the eastern part of the city.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido has proclaimed himself interim president of Venezuela and called for demonstrations to increase pressure on Maduro to resign.
Hundreds of Venezuelans gathered in downtown Barcelona, Spain, on Saturday to express their support for Juan Guaido, who declared himself interim president of Venezuela last week.
The gathering was one of several expected around the world to coincide with a rally planned by Guaido in Venezuela.
The defiant socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro has called on its own loyalists to flood the streets waving flags to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Bolivarian revolution launched by the late Hugo Chavez.
Nancy San Juan, a 78-year-old yoga teacher, says: ``This is the end. It's imminent. How is it going to end? We don't know. We don't know because this man (Maduro) doesn't want to leave and is very defiant.''
Spain's National Institute of Statistics says the number of people born in Venezuela who live in Spain jumped from 165,000 in 2015 to 255,000 last year.
A Venezuelan air force general defected from the administration of President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday and called on his compatriots to participate in protests against the socialist leader's rule.
Gen. Francisco Yanez is the first high ranking officer to leave Maduro's government since Jan. 23, when National Assembly President Juan Guaido declared himself the country's legitimate leader.
In a YouTube video, Yanez said: ``The transition to democracy is imminent.'' He described Maduro as a dictator and referred to Guaido as his president, but refused to say whether he is still in Venezuela or has left the country.
In a brief phone conversation with The Associated Press, the officer confirmed, from a Colombian number, the veracity of his declaration and said he would not give further statements until given authorization by ``the commander-in-chief of the legal armed force which is President Juan Guaido.''
In the video, Yanez claimed that ``90 per cent'' of the country's armed forces are against Maduro.
The Canadian Press & the Associated Press. All rights are reserved.
Pence Says US Aims for 'Transition' in Venezuela
Venezuelan exiles who fled their homeland are telling U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence that the moment has come to intervene and overthrow President Nicolas Maduro.
Pence told Venezuelans in Miami that Washington was working toward a ``peaceful transition'' so that opposition leader Juan Guaido comes to power, and he reassured them the Trump administration would continue to weaken Maduro.
``This is no time for dialogue,'' Pence said at a church, prompting loud cheers among Venezuelan exiles. ``It is time to end the Maduro regime.''
Before his speech, Pence sat down with a college professor, who says he was physically assaulted by armed pro-government groups. He also heard from other refugees such as a Venezuelan city councilman, who says he was accused of being a CIA agent.
Chevron Corp. says its operations in Venezuela will continue normally for the ``foreseeable future'' despite newly imposed U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA.
Chevron has four joint-venture operations for exploration and production with PDVSA, as the Venezuelan company is known. The Trump administration has banned U.S. companies from doing business with PDVSA but allowed a six-month grace period for companies with ongoing operations in the South American country.
Chevron CEO Michael Wirth says that, ``For the foreseeable future, we feel like we can maintain a good stable operation and a safe operation on the ground in Venezuela.'' He spoke Friday in a conference call with Wall Street analysts.
Wirth also said Chevron's refining operations in the U.S. are well-prepared to handle an expected disruption of Venezuelan crude supply due to the sanctions. Wirth says Chevron had a contingency plan in place in anticipation of the sanctions and has alternate sourcing.
He says most of the Venezuelan crude oil it buys goes to its Pascagoula refinery in Mississippi. He said ``we will keep the refinery full with crude.''
U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence has arrived in Miami for a meeting with people who have fled Venezuela as Washington heightens its efforts to oust Nicolas Maduro from the presidency.
Pence is also meeting with community leaders, former elected officials and Florida senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott in the Miami suburb of Doral to talk about the South American nation's political crisis.
The Trump administration has backed opposition leader Juan Guaido as he has declared himself the interim president of Venezuela.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart are also participating in the round table.
A prominent Venezuelan lawmaker says that a group of European Union and Latin American countries aiming to solve the political crisis in Venezuela should support the ouster of President Nicolas Maduro without negotiations.
Francisco Sucre heads the international committee of the opposition-led National Assembly in Venezuela. He says that the ``international contact group'' announced on Thursday by the EU's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, ``should help to cease the usurpation of power by Maduro and establish a transitional government until new elections.''
``There is no possible discussion here, Maduro has to leave,'' Sucre told The Associated Press on Friday in Madrid, where he is wrapping up a three-day European tour to enlist support for opposition leader Juan Guaido.
The lawmaker says he welcomes the EU's involvement ``because we are going to need its co-operation during the initial stages of the recovery of our country.''
The European Parliament has called on the EU's member states to recognize Guaido as the interim president. The socialist government of Spain, which has strong historical, cultural and economic ties to Venezuela, has said it will do so on Monday if Maduro doesn't call a general election before Sunday.
Sucre says European support for Guaido will influence others.
He said: ``Power is evaporating from Maduro's hands with the passing of the hours.''
``We have been contacted by diplomatic workers across Europe who are ready to take a step forward, but they are waiting for the right moment.''
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido says he's respectfully declining offers from the presidents of Mexico and Uruguay to negotiate with President Nicolas Maduro.
Guaido on Friday made public a letter that he's sending to both leaders. He urged them to be on the right side of history, saying that remaining neutral in the political struggle aligns them with Maduro.
Guaido declared last week that he's interim president of Venezuela and vowed to topple Maduro's administration. He's backed by the United States and roughly two dozen nations.
He says his priority is to hold democratic elections.
The United States also rejects offers from Mexico, Uruguay and the Vatican to mediate a dialogue.
The Canadian Press & the Associated Press. All rights are reserved.
Venezuela Police Deny Cops Visited Guaido Home
Venezuela's police force is denying that agents from a special operations unit visited opposition leader Juan Guaido's family home.
In a statement on Twitter, the head of the national police says accusations that officers went to Guaido's home Thursday are ``totally FALSE.''
Earlier in the day, Guaido said agents from a feared police unit known for its brutal tactics arrived at his home asking for his wife. He accused police of trying to intimidate his family as he challenges Nicolas Maduro's claim to Venezuela's presidency.
Guaido said his young daughter was inside and he warned officers that if anything happened to her he would hold them accountable.
The pro-Maduro chief prosecutor's office has initiated an investigation into Guaido's anti-government activities and the government-stacked Supreme Court has barred him from leaving the country and frozen his bank accounts.
The U.N. says Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has responded to a letter sent via Twitter by the president of Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly, Juan Guaido.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Thursday that Guterres reiterated the offer of his ``good offices'' to find a political solution to the current crisis and emphasized his public concern about the situation and its impact on the Venezuelan people.
Guaido declared himself Venezuela's interim president last week and asked for international humanitarian assistance co-ordinated by the U.N. in the letter dated Jan. 26.
Dujarric said Guterres responded that ``the United Nations is ready to increase its activities in Venezuela in the areas of humanitarian assistance and development.''
But Dujarric said the secretary-general told Guaido that to do this the United Nations needs ``the consent and the co-operation'' of Nicolas Maduro's government, which is recognized by the U.N.
Dujarric said Guterres ``again underscored that recognizing governments'' is decided by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly, not the secretary-general.
The spokesman said Guterres' letter to Guaido was also sent to Venezuela's U.N. Mission and others who were copied on the letter sent by Guaido.
A key U.S. customer for Venezuelan oil says it has stopped importing crude from the South American country due to recently imposed U.S. sanctions.
Valero Energy Corp. said it stopped taking deliveries of Venezuelan crude oil after the Trump administration slapped sanctions on Venezuela's state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A.
Valero Senior Vice-President Gary Simmons said the San Antonio, Texas, refinery is focused on finding an alternative to cover its next 30-day supply plan. Simmons said Venezuela has supplied 20 per cent of the heavy sour crude the company runs in its refineries.
He also said that Valero had been putting alternatives in place due to Venezuela's declining oil production but the company ``still has some holes to fill in our supply plan.''
Simmons spoke Thursday on a conference call with Wall Street analysts.
Spain's state-run EFE news agency says three of its journalists have been freed after being detained overnight in Venezuela's capital.
EFE reported Thursday that the journalists are with Spain's assistant consul in Venezuela.
According to the news agency, Colombian photographer Leonardo Munoz disappeared Wednesday while on assignment and two other journalists were later taken from their office by members of Venezuela's intelligence agency.
Two French journalists were also freed from detention on Thursday, and two Chilean journalists were ordered deported.
A union for Venezuelan journalists says that officials detained 19 journalists in January as the nation reels from political unrest.
Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza says that ``as in any country in the world'' international journalists need to be accredited by the consulates in their countries in order to avoid ``unnecessary inconveniences.''
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido said security forces showed up at his wife's apartment in an attempt to intimidate him.
``The dictatorship thinks it can intimidate us,'' Guaido said at the end of a speech Thursday to present the opposition's plan to rescue Venezuela from its economic crisis.
He said his 20-month-old daughter was at the Caracas apartment.
Neighbours immediately rushed to the high-rise apartment building banging pots and pans.
The police appeared to leave shortly after they arrived.
A media outlet in France says two French journalists have been freed from detention in Venezuela.
The official Twitter account of the TMC television program Quotidien tweeted Thursday that Baptiste des Monstiers and Pierre Caille had been released by Venezuelan authorities and ``will soon return to Paris.''
The journalists were arrested Tuesday.
Earlier Thursday, the French Foreign Ministry said it had been in contact with Caracas and had demanded their release ``since the moment our compatriots were arrested.'' It did not suggest a motive for the arrests or provide further information.
Jorge Arreaza, the foreign minister of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, has blamed foreign journalists for entering the country without work permits.
Venezuelan officials say security forces have taken down a ``terrorists'' group backed by political opponents plotting to assassinate embattled President Nicolas Maduro.
Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said Thursday that retired National Guard Col. Oswaldo Garcia Palomo was among those detained.
Garcia Palomo has been an outspoken critic of Maduro who for months has openly declared his intentions to amass a military force in exile to remove Maduro from power.
Palomo's wife Sorbay Padilla has said that she last heard from him Sunday after he entered the country clandestinely from Colombia.
Reverol accuses Colombian intelligence, the CIA and exiled Venezuelan lawmaker Julio Borges of being behind the alleged mercenary group.
He says security forces seized two rifles and 500 armbands bearing the letters ``OC,'' which he says stands for ``Operation Constitution.''
The French Foreign Ministry says it has demanded that Venezuelan authorities release two French journalists working for television channel TMC.
The journalists were arrested on Tuesday.
In a press statement Thursday, the Quai d'Orsay said it has been in contact with officials in Caracas ``since the moment our compatriots were arrested.''
It did not suggest a motive for the arrests or provide further information.
Jorge Arreaza, the foreign minister of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, has blamed foreign journalists for entering the country without work permits.
The European Parliament meanwhile has called on the European Union's member states to recognize Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president as Venezuela's political crisis deepens.
An independent U.N. human rights monitor says economic sanctions are compounding a ``grave crisis'' in Venezuela.
Idriss Jazairy, a special rapporteur focusing on the negative impact of sanctions, expressed concern about ``reports'' that the U.S. sanctions were ``aimed at changing the government of Venezuela.'' He did not specify the reports.
He added: ``The use of sanctions by outside powers to overthrow an elected government is in violation of all norms of international law.''
U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to use the ``full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy.'' The Trump administration slapped sanctions on Venezuela that could starve the country of billions in oil revenue.
Jazairy's office has taken funds from donors including Russia, one of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's staunchest supporters.
Special rapporteurs do not speak for the United Nations, but are appointed by the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council.
The spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry says there are no plans underway for evacuation of the country's diplomats or other citizens from Venezuela, but is declining to comment on why a Russian airliner showed up in the Venezuelan capital's airport.
The arrival of the Boeing 777 belonging to Russian airline Nordwind on Monday has led to widespread speculation, including that Venezuelan officials might be aiming to spirit tons of gold reserves out of the country as a political crisis deepens.
The Associated Press was unable to verify the authenticity of that claim.
Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters Thursday that she could not comment on the airliner, ``which was not sent for official goals.''
``I can say that this is not about evacuation of Russian diplomats, or their family members or Russian citizens that are employees of overseas agencies or companies,'' she said.
The European Parliament is calling on the European Union's member states to recognize Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president.
The 28-member bloc is still defining its position on the crisis there.
The EU legislature approved by a 439-104 margin a resolution that also condemned the continued violence and the detention of journalists who sought to cover events there.
``All of Venezuela is watching us,'' said Esteban Gonzalez Pons of the Christian Democrat EPP group. ``Let's make Venezuelan history today by recognizing the democratic and legitimate power of Venezuela.''
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called on the South American country to release journalists who were arrested covering the crisis.
``We expect them to be released immediately,'' she said in Bucharest where EU foreign ministers are set to discuss the crisis later Thursday.
The Spanish government has condemned the detention of three reporters and a driver working for Spain's state-run EFE news agency in Venezuela's capital.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's office issued a statement Thursday calling for their immediate release.
EFE has reported that Colombian photographer Leonardo Munoz disappeared on Wednesday morning in Caracas and that two more reporters, Spaniard Gonzalo Dominguez and Colombian Mauren Barriga, were later taken away from their office by members of Venezuelan intelligence service Sebin. Spain's government says a Venezuelan driver working for the news agency was also taken into custody. He wasn't identified.
Sanchez has said that Spain's government will endorse Juan Guaido as interim president of Venezuela if embattled President Nicolas Maduro doesn't call a presidential election by Sunday.
The Canadian Press & the Associated Press. All rights are reserved.
Retired Colonel Accused in Maduro Drone 'Attack' Held in Venezuela A retired Venezuelan colonel accused of being a leader of the explosives-laden drone "attack" on President Nicolas Maduro in August has been arrested, his wife said on Wednesday.
"He was kidnapped," Sorbay Padilla said in a video sent to journalists and human rights activists.
She said her husband, Oswaldo Garcia Palomo, is being held at the military's intelligence headquarters in Caracas.
Garcia Palomo, 54, had been in exile in neighboring Colombia but was captured at the end of last week in western Venezuela after secretly returning to the country, local press reported.
His detention comes during high political tension in Venezuela where opposition leader Juan Guaido, backed by the United States, has launched a bid to remove Maduro from power.
Last week Guaido declared himself acting president and has appealed to the military to disavow Maduro.
The government had fingered Garcia Palomo as one of the masterminds behind last year's alleged attack, in which two drones exploded during a military parade in Caracas during a speech by the president.
Seven soldiers were allegedly wounded in what Maduro claimed was an "assassination" attempt.
He accused Colombia of collaborating with Venezuela's "ultra far-right" opposition in the incident, which he said was funded by unnamed figures in the US.
Venezuela had asked Colombia to deport Garcia Palomo.
Padilla said no one has been able to contact her husband.
The prosecutor's office has charged 43 people in relation to the alleged drone attack, of which 30 were detained. Among them are three members of the armed forces, including two generals and opposition deputy Juan Requesens.
Guaido was also detained, but later released.
So far, the military high command has remained loyal to Maduro.
Earlier on Wednesday, he met with 2,500 soldiers in Caracas and called for "unity" while hitting out at "mercenaries" he said were conspiring with Colombia to sow division within the armed forces.
Guaido and the opposition-dominated National Assembly he heads have branded Maduro a "usurper" over his re-election last May in a poll boycotted by his opponents protesting the detention, exile and barring of many of their leaders.
The United Nations human rights office said on Tuesday that more than 40 people were killed in protests that began last week when more than two dozen soldiers rose up in rejection of Maduro's regime. They were arrested.
In addition, the UN said almost 700 people were detained on January 23, the highest single-day toll for at least 20 years.
Venezuela Prosecutor Moves on Popular Opposition Leader
Venezuela's chief prosecutor on Tuesday asked the country's top court to ban opposition leader Juan Guaido from leaving the country, launching a criminal probe into his anti-government activities while international pressure builds against President Nicolas Maduro.
Attorney General Tarek William Saab made his request to the government-stacked Supreme Court, and also asked it to block Guaido's financial accounts of Guaido.
Saab didn't specify what crimes Guaido is being investigated for, but said the probe is tied to unrest sparked by his decision to declare himself interim president last week in a direct challenge to President Nicolas Maduro's authority.
The move comes as international pressure mounts against Maduro's government from the United States, which earlier in the day handed control over Venezuela's U.S. bank accounts to Guaido. Russia announced it expects Venezuela to have problems paying its debts.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certified that Guaido, the congressional leader who has declared himself interim president, has authority to take control of bank accounts that Venezuela's government has in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or any other U.S.-insured banks.
Pompeo said the certification will ``help Venezuela's legitimate government safeguard those assets for the benefit of the Venezuelan people.''
Guaido has been recognized as the nation's rightful leader by two dozen nations that contend the re-election of socialist President Nicolas Maduro was a sham, in part because his strongest opponents were barred from running.
Violent street demonstrations erupted last week when Guaido during a massive opposition rally in Caracas declared that he had assumed presidential powers and planned to hold fresh elections, ending Maduro's ``dictatorship.''
The United States, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and Paraguay have officially acknowledged Guaido as the legitimate interim head of Venezuela, while countries including Russia and China back Maduro.
Inside Venezuela, Maduro holds the reins of power with the armed forces still loyal despite an opposition push to lure their support by proposing amnesty for anybody who supports Guaido's transitional government.
Maduro accuses the United States of leading an open coup to oust him and exploit Venezuela's oil reserves, the largest in the world.
On Monday, the U.S. hit Venezuela's state-owned oil company with sanctions aimed at increasing pressure on Maduro to leave office.
Guaido said in an interview with CNN in Spanish on Monday that Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress had approved a measure asking foreign nations to ensure the country's assets aren't ``looted'' by Maduro.
Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak told Russian state news agencies Tuesday ``there will probably be problems'' for Venezuela in paying its debts.
Storchak said Venezuela owes Russia $3 billion, with repayments twice a year of around $100 million, with the next due in March. Russia also has extensive commercial interests in Venezuela, including state oil company Rosneft's partnership with Petroleos de Venezuela SA, which was placed under U.S. sanctions Monday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin shares the view of the Venezuelan government that the sanctions are ``illegal'' and sees them as a tool of unfair competition on part of the United States.
In Spain, state-owned shipbuilder Navantia said it has called back four Spanish technicians from Venezuela who were readying for final delivery a navy patrol ship sold 14 years ago to the Venezuelan government.
A company spokesman said the recall doesn't change the shipbuilder's plan to deliver the vessel, which is called Eternal Commander Hugo Chavez. It is the last of eight similar ships that the former Venezuelan leader bought from Spain in 2005 for $1.4 billion.
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Canada to Host Regional Meeting on Venezuela
Canada plans to host an emergency meeting of the 14-nation Lima Group next week to discuss options for the crisis in Venezuela.
Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday the meeting will be in Ottawa on Feb. 4.
The regional group was created in Lima, Peru, in 2017 to try to hope resolve the crisis in Venezuela and nearly all of the nations now have thrown their support behind opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela, deciding that last year's re-election of President Nicolas Maduro was invalid. Canada has been a key presence the effort to have Guaido recognized as president pending new elections.
Freeland says Venezuela has been a top foreign policy priority for Canada.
A Venezuelan diplomat in Miami says she's abandoned embattled President Nicolas Maduro, throwing her support behind opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Consular officer Scarlet Salazar issued a videotaped statement Monday saying she's living up to her constitutional duty as a career diplomat.
Opposition lawmaker Guaido last week declared that he had assumed presidential powers and will hold fresh elections to restore democracy. The U.S. and several other countries have recognized him as interim president, though Maduro is recognized by most nations, as well as the country's military leadership.
Miami, a stronghold of Venezuelans living in exile.
Salazar says she's staying and will continue to perform her consular duties at the Miami office.
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Rivals Maduro and Guiado Vie for Venezuelan Military Backing
By Scott Smith & Fabiola Sanchez
The struggle for control of Venezuela turned to the military Sunday, as supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaido handed leaflets to soldiers detailing a proposed amnesty law that would protect them for helping overthrow President Nicolas Maduro.
At the same time, Maduro demonstrated his might, wearing tan fatigues at military exercises. Flanked by his top brass, Maduro watched heavy artillery fired into a hillside and boarded an amphibious tank.
Addressing soldiers in an appearance on state TV, Maduro asked whether they were plotting with the ``imperialist'' United States, which he accused of openly leading a coup against him.
``No, my commander-in-chief,'' they shouted in unison, and Maduro responded: ``We're ready to defend our homeland _ under any circumstance.''
The dueling appeals from the two rivals again put the military centre stage in the global debate over who holds a legitimate claim to power in the South American nation.
The standoff has plunged troubled Venezuela into a new chapter of political turmoil that has already left more than two dozen dead as thousands took to the streets demanding Maduro step down.
It erupted when Guaido, the 35-year-old leader of Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress, declared before masses of supporters last week that he has temporarily assumed presidential powers, vowing to hold free elections and end Maduro's dictatorship.
President Donald Trump and several foreign leaders quickly recognized Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate leader, prompting Maduro to cut ties with the U.S. and order its diplomats from Caracas within 72 hours. The U.S. defied him, saying Maduro isn't the legitimate president, and Maduro relented, suspending the deadline for 30 days for the sake of opening a dialogue.
Venezuela's crisis came before the U.N. Security Council on Saturday, which took no formal action because of divisions among members. Russia and China back Maduro. But France and Britain joined Spain and Germany in turning up the pressure on Maduro, saying they would recognize Guaido as president unless Venezuela calls a new presidential election within eight days.
``Where do you get that you have the power to establish a deadline or an ultimatum to a sovereign people?'' said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza. ``It's almost childlike.''
Venezuela's armed forces remain the key to Maduro's hold on power, firing tear gas and bullets on protesters, killing more than two dozen since Wednesday.
Guaido's supporters made their case directly to soldiers on Sunday, handing them leaflets that urged they reject the socialist leader and explaining how they could be eligible for amnesty if they help return Venezuela to democracy.
In Paraiso, an area of Caracas where residents and the National Guard violently clashed, opposition lawmaker Ivlev Silva, his hands raised over his head, walked up to a line of soldiers wearing riot gear and holding shields.
``The people of Venezuela believe in each one of you,'' Silva said, handing them the leaflets. Their commander responded that they were defending the Bolivarian revolution and support Maduro.
Similar scenes took place at military bases across Caracas, where one soldier burned his leaflet and another man threw a stack of them out a door, rejecting the opposition's plea.
In claiming residential powers, Guaido said he was acting in accordance with two articles of the constitution that give the National Assembly president the right to hold power temporarily and call new elections.
Emerging from Sunday Mass, where he honoured those killed and arrested in recent political protests, Guaido called on the armed forces not to shoot fellow Venezuelans.
``We are waiting for you and the commitment you have to our constitution,'' Guaido said. ``Don't shoot at those who have come out to defend your family, your work and livelihood.''
The Trump administration maintained that all options remain open if Maduro refuses to cede leadership, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on ``Fox News Sunday.''
``I don't think any president of any party who is doing his or her job would be doing the job properly if they took anything off the table,'' he said. ``So, I think the president of the United States is looking at this extraordinarily closely.''
Associated Press reporter Manuel Rueda contributed to this story.
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EU to 'Take Further Actions' If New Elections Not Called in Venezuela The European Union "will take further actions" if new elections are not called in Venezuela in the coming days, EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said on Saturday, as international pressure grows on embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro.
Her statement came after the United States, Canada and major South American governments recognised opposition leader Juan Guaido, who proclaimed himself acting president in a challenge to Maduro.
"In the absence of an announcement on the organisation of fresh elections with the necessary guarantees over the next days, the EU will take further actions, including on the issue of recognition of the country's leadership," Mogherini said.
Spain, France, Germany, Portugal and the United Kingdom on Saturday also gave Maduro an ultimatum of eight days to call new elections or they would recognise Guaido as president.
The coordinated announcements are the most explicit yet from EU countries after the 28-member bloc struggled to draft a joint statement with regards to its position on the crisis in Venezuela.
Maduro's reelection last year was contested by the opposition and rejected by the US, EU and UN as a sham -- but he has until now retained the loyalty of the South American OPEC nation's powerful military.
Guaido, who is chief of the elected National Assembly, proclaimed himself acting president of Venezuela during massive street rallies this week.
"The EU reiterates its full support to the National Assembly, which is the democratic legitimate body of Venezuela," the Mogherini statement said. "We reaffirm our deep belief that a peaceful and inclusive democratic solution is the only sustainable way out of the current political impasse."
After four years of economic collapse that has left Venezuelans short of food and medicine and driven more than two million to flee, Guaido is trying to oust Maduro following elections that saw the socialist leader sworn in for a second term.
AP Exclusive: Anti Maduro Coalition Grew From Secret Talks
By Joshua Goodman, Luis Alonso Lugo & Rob Gillies
The coalition of Latin American governments that joined the U.S. in quickly recognizing Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president came together over weeks of secret diplomacy that included whispered messages to activists under constant surveillance and a high-risk foreign trip by the opposition leader challenging President Nicolas Maduro for power, those involved in the talks said.
In mid-December, Guaido quietly travelled to Washington, Colombia and Brazil to brief officials on the opposition's strategy of mass demonstrations to coincide with Maduro's expected swearing-in for a second term on Jan. 10 in the face of widespread international condemnation, according to exiled former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, an ally.
To leave Venezuela, he sneaked across the lawless border with Colombia, so as not to raise suspicions among immigration officials who sometimes harass opposition figures at the airport and bar them from travelling abroad, said a different anti-government leader, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss security arrangements.
Building consensus in the fragmented anti-government coalition proved to be an uphill battle. The opposition has for years been divided by egos and strategy, as well as a government crackdown that has sent several prominent leaders into exile, making face-to-face meetings impossible. Others inside Venezuela were being heavily watched by intelligence agencies, and all were concerned about tipping off the government.
Long sessions of encrypted text messaging became the norm, the opposition leader said. A U.S. official said intermediaries were used to deliver messages to Guaido's political mentor and opposition power broker Leopoldo Lopez, who is under house arrest after he tried and failed to lead a mass uprising against Maduro in 2014. The U.S. official spoke on condition of anonymity out of security concerns.
Despite Guaido's personal assurances in Bogota that he would declare himself interim president at a Jan. 23 rally coinciding with the anniversary of the 1958 coup that ended Venezuela's military dictatorship, the suspense lasted until the hours before the announcement, said a Latin American diplomat from the Lima Group who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Some moderate factions were left in the dark or wanted to go slower, worrying that a bold move would lead to another failure for the opposition. In the end, those differences were smoothed over internally, without any public discord.
``This is the first time in at least five years the opposition has shown an ability to come together in any meaningful manner,'' said a senior Canadian official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly.
The decision to confront Maduro directly was only possible because of strong support from the Trump administration, which led a chorus of mostly conservative Latin American governments that immediately recognized Guaido.
It was no small diplomatic feat, given the mistrust of the U.S. in Latin America due to the painful memories stemming from U.S. military interventions in the region during the Cold War. The tough-handed approach drew bipartisan support, with two of the Senate's most senior Democrats, Dick Durbin and Bob Menendez, offering praise.
The watershed moment was President Donald Trump's stunning remark in August 2017 from the steps of his New Jersey golf club that a ``military option'' was on the table to deal with the Venezuelan crisis.
In the weeks that followed, Trump went on to strongly condemn Maduro in his address to the U.N. General Assembly as well as quietly press aides and some Latin American leaders about a military invasion of the country.
From then on, countries in the region realized they had a partner in the U.S. willing to tackle a crisis that had been years in the making but which previous U.S. administrations had chosen to play down because of limited national security implications, said Fernando Cutz, a former senior national security adviser on Latin America to both President Barack Obama and Trump.
For some, especially Mexico, which was renegotiating NAFTA, adopting a more aggressive stance was also an opportunity to gain leverage in bilateral relations with the Trump administration.
``Trump has personally sparked a lot of this,'' said Cutz, now with the Cohen Group, a Washington consulting firm. ``Literally in every interaction that he has had with Latin American leaders since taking office, he brings up Venezuela. That has forced a lot of hands.''
On Jan. 4 _ a day before Guaido was sworn in as national assembly president _ foreign ministers from 13 nations of the Lima Group, which doesn't include the U.S., said they wouldn't recognize Maduro's second term.
That set off a scramble at the White House to make sure it wasn't being left behind, said a former U.S. official and congressional staffer who was in close contact with the national security council. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the administration's planning.
Playing a key role behind the scenes was Lima Group member Canada, whose Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to Guaido the night before Maduro's searing-in ceremony to offer her government's support should he confront the socialist leader, the Canadian official said. Also active was Colombia, which shares a border with Venezuela and has received more than 2 million migrants fleeing economic chaos, along with Peru and Brazil's new far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
Gillies reported from Toronto and Alonso reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Anna Jean Kaiser in Sao Paulo, Brazil, contributed.
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Venezuela Crisis: Familiar Geopolitical Sides Take Shape
By Nataliya Vasilyeva
Russia, China, Iran, Syria and Cuba have come down on one side. The United States, Canada, and countries in Western Europe are on the other.
As the crisis in Venezuela reaches a new boiling point _ with embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro facing a challenge from opposition leader Juan Guaido _ the geopolitical fault lines look familiar.
President Donald Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued statements Wednesday proclaiming U.S. recognition of Guaido, saying the U.S. would take all diplomatic and economic measures necessary to support a transition to a new government. Canada said it was recognizing Guaido as the interim president, and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called him ``the right person'' to take Venezuela forward.
But Washington's adversaries are issuing warnings against U.S. intervention. Russian officials have called the move a ``coup'' orchestrated by the U.S.
The U.S. and Russia already are at odds over Syria's civil war, and the Venezuelan crisis has the potential to add further strain. Russian-U.S. ties have sunk to post-Cold War lows over Moscow's support of separatists in Ukraine and allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
``We view the attempt to usurp power in Venezuela as something that contradicts and violates the foundations and principles of international law,'' said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
In a phone call with Maduro, President Vladimir Putin expressed support, noting that ``destructive foreign interference tramples on basic norms of the international law,'' and called for a peaceful dialogue, according to the Kremlin.
Venezuela's status as a major oil producer _ it has the world's largest underground oil reserves, but crude production continues to crash _ means its political instability has deep implications globally.
And Russia has taken a special interest. Last month, Russia sent two Tu-160 nuclear-capable bombers to Venezuela for several days in what was seen as a precursor for a possible long-term military presence.
Pompeo criticized the move at the time as ``two corrupt governments squandering public funds and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer. Peskov dismissed the comment as ''undiplomatic`` and ''inappropriate,`` saying that half of the U.S. military budget ''would be enough to feed the whole of Africa.``
Russia's Foreign Ministry said Thursday the crisis now ``has reached a dangerous point'' and urged the international community to mediate between the government and the opposition.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev even injected some domestic U.S. politics into the equation, citing the partial government shutdown and the differences between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
``Let's imagine, just for an instant, how the American people would respond, for example, to the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives declaring herself the new president against the backdrop of the budget crisis and government shutdown,'' Medvedev said on Facebook. ``What would be the reaction from the current U.S. president, especially if this move was supported by the leadership of another country, for example, Russia?''
Russia frequently decries popular uprisings like the ``colour revolutions'' that have taken place in Ukraine, Georgia and other countries in its former sphere of influence.
China's Foreign Ministry also sternly urged against interference by Washington in Venezuela. Beijing's allies, including Iran and Syria, followed suit.
China ``opposes external intervention in Venezuela,'' Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. ``We hope that Venezuela and the United States can respect and treat each other on an equal footing, and deal with their relations based on non-interference in each other's internal affairs.''
In the last decade, China has given Venezuela $65 billion in loans, cash and investment. Venezuela owes it more than $20 billion. China's only hope of being repaid appears to lie in Venezuela ramping up oil production, although low oil prices and the country's crashing economy appear to bode poorly for such an outcome.
The Russian state-controlled oil company Rosneft has invested heavily in Venezuela, and its chief executive, Igor Sechin, visited Caracas in November, pressuring the Maduro government to make good on its commitments to his company. Russia, a major oil producer itself, has been buying oil from the state-run Venezuelan company PDVSA, and Sechin reportedly went to Caracas to raise concerns about Venezuela halting oil supplies.
Russia is estimated to have poured in at least $17 billion in Venezuela in loans and investment since Maduro's populist predecessor, Hugo Chavez, came to power in 1999. The Economic Development Ministry said Russia has invested around $4 billion in Venezuela, mostly in joint oil projects.
Asked if Russia would be willing to grant asylum to Maduro, the Kremlin spokesman Peskov refused to speculate and insisted that Moscow views Maduro as the only legitimate leader. Maduro visited Moscow in early December, seeking political and economic assistance as Venezuela has faced sky-high inflation and food shortages.
For Iran, its relationship with Venezuela hinges on their mutual enmity toward the U.S.
Chavez travelled to Iran in 2006 and received the country's Islamic Republic Medal, its highest award, from hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called Chavez a ``brother and a trench mate.'' Chavez vowed Venezuela would ``stay by Iran at any time and under any condition.'' Both leaders faced criticism from then-U.S. President George W. Bush and offered their own withering criticism of him.
After Maduro took power upon Chavez's death in 2013, Iran has maintained its support of Venezuela. On Thursday, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi criticized the U.S. and other countries over meddling in Venezuela.
``The Islamic Republic of Iran supports the government and people of Venezuela against any foreign intervention in the internal affairs of Venezuela or any other illegitimate and illegal measure such as a coup d'etat,'' Ghasemi said.
Strong endorsement for the current Venezuelan government also came from Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a message of support: ``My brother Maduro! Stay strong, we are by your side.''
Turkey also has cultivated close economic and political ties with Maduro. During a visit to Venezuela in December, Erdogan blamed U.S. sanctions for the country's economic hardships.
Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Turkey, under Erdogan, would ``maintain its principled stance against coup attempts.'' Erdogan himself faced a military coup attempt in 2016.
Syria also came to the defence of Maduro's government.
Damascus reaffirmed its ``full solidarity with the leadership and people of the Venezuelan Republic in preserving the country's sovereignty and foiling the American administration's hostile plans,'' the Syrian Foreign Ministry said.
Cuba's Foreign Ministry said Havana ``expresses its unwavering solidarity'' with the Maduro government. Cuba has sent its closest ally tens of thousands of workers, from doctors to intelligence officials, and in return has received tens of thousands of barrels a day in heavily subsidized oil.
Associated Press writers Christopher Bodeen in Beijing, Bassem Mroue in Beirut, Suzan Fraser in Ankara and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed.
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At Least 1 Killed as Unrest Roils Venezuela
At least one person has been killed in a looting incident in southern Venezuela coinciding with bouts of anti-government unrest.
A police report said that a 30-year-old worker named Carlos Olivares was killed Tuesday night in Ciudad Bolivar by four unidentified people who descended from a beige Jeep and fired upon a crowd that had raided a store.
The report was based on an interview with the victim's sister-in-law.
Ivanka Trump is reiterating the U.S. government's support for Venezuelans ahead of a forthcoming anti-government demonstration seeking to oust President Nicolas Maduro.
``?Potus, ?VP and the whole Administration stand with the people of Venezuela as they seek freedom from the oppression of dictator Maduro,'' Ivanka Trump posted on Twitter on Wednesday, in reply to an earlier post by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.
The message from the White House senior adviser and daughter of U.S. President Donald Trump echoed a similar sentiment from U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence.
Pence said Tuesday that Venezuelans have the ``unwavering support'' of the United States in their effort to restore democracy to their country.
There was an eerie calm on the streets of Caracas early Wednesday ahead of a planned anti-government demonstration seeking to oust President Nicolas Maduro.
Many shops were closed while riot police flanked by water tanks and lightly armoured vehicles guarded the emblematic Plaza Venezuela that leads to downtown.
Juan Guaido, the newly-installed leader of congress who called Wednesday's march, urged security forces to stand alongside peaceful protesters.
``The world's eyes are on our homeland today,'' he said in an early-morning tweet.
Overnight there were reports of unrest in several working-class neighbourhoods of Caracas as residents took to the streets to set fire to barricades demanding Maduro's resignation.
Venezuela's re-invigorated opposition faces a crucial test Wednesday as it seeks to fill streets nationwide with protesters in an appeal to the military and the poor to shift loyalties that until recently looked solidly behind President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government.
The protests have been called to coincide with a historic date for Venezuelans _ the anniversary of the 1958 coup that overthrew military dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez. Government supporters are also expected to march in downtown Caracas in a rival show of strength.
The competing demonstrations will come after a whirlwind week that saw an uprising by a tiny military unit, fires set during protests in poor neighbourhoods and the brief detention by security forces of the newly installed head of the opposition-controlled congress.
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Maduro Fires Back at US After Criticism by Pence
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has ordered a close review of the country's relationship with the United States in answer to stinging condemnation from the Trump administration.
Vice-President Mike Pence sent a videotaped message to Venezuelans calling Maduro a dictator who maintains power by jailing dissident voices. The video was released Tuesday, a day before the opposition holds nationwide demonstrations calling for the removal of Maduro.
Maduro spoke hours later on state TV, saying Pence hit a 200-year low in relations between the two countries by authorizing a coup.
The U.S. maintains an embassy in Caracas, but the two countries haven't exchanged ambassadors in nearly a decade.
A once-wealthy oil nation, Venezuela is in a deepening crisis after two decades of socialist rule that has led to shortages of food and medicine.
The leader of the Organization of American States is praising a decision by Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly to stay in the regional group.
Secretary General Luis Almagro on Tuesday said he welcomed a decision by legislators to name new assembly leader Gustavo Tarre Briceno as a special representative to the bloc.
Venezuela's government announced its withdrawal from the OAS in 2017 after member states began raising questions about the leadership of socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
Almagro has been one of Maduro's fiercest critics and has already recognized Guaido as Venezuela's interim president.
Venezuela's pro-government Supreme Court declared Monday that the National Assembly's leadership is illegitimate and nullified its recent decisions.
Guaido has re-energized the nation's opposition movement and is calling for mass protests across the country Wednesday.
Some of the Republican members of Florida's congressional delegation are urging President Donald Trump to recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuela's new interim president.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says that ``I think now is the moment and leadership can really, really make a difference for the people of Venezuela.''
DeSantis was joined at the White House on Tuesday by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. They exited their meeting with Trump urging him to apply pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Scott says socialism in Venezuela has left it without food, gas and medicine and notes that millions of people have left the country.
Venezuelan opposition leaders are calling for nationwide protests Wednesday. The once-wealthy oil nation is sliding into a deepening political and economic crisis.
U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence says Venezuelans have the ``unwavering support'' of the United States in their effort to restore democracy to their country.
In a video message released Tuesday, Pence called Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro a ``dictator with no legitimate claim to power.''
The vice-president says the U.S. joins other ``freedom-loving'' nations in recognizing the popularly elected National Assembly as the ``last vestige of democracy'' in Venezuela. He says he supports the decision by National Assembly president and opposition leader Juan Guaido to declare Maduro a ``usurper'' and call for the creation of a transitional government.
Anti-Maduro demonstrations are expected nationwide on Wednesday.
Pence says the American people will be with Venezuelans until democracy is restored.
Foreign ministers of five European countries say they want the European Union to take an active role in international mediation they deem necessary in Venezuela, where the opposition is readying for a new round of anti-government protests on Wednesday.
In a statement issued Tuesday, the foreign affairs ministers of Spain, France, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands are urging EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to intensify contacts to establish ``as soon as possible'' a so-called ``Group of International Contact.''
``It's crucially important for Europe to have a significant presence in such Group of Contact in order to promote adequately our common interests,'' the statement says.
Venezuela plunged deeper into turmoil Monday as security forces put down a pre-dawn uprising by National Guardsmen that triggered violent street protests.
Working class neighbourhoods in Venezuela's capital are sifting through charred rubble and smouldering trash after violence erupted a day earlier.
Local merchant Carmen Martinez said Tuesday her neighbours in Caracas took to the streets because they were fed up with rising costs and a lack of basic goods.
Isolated protests broke out after officials arrested more than two dozen National Guardsmen who mounted an uprising against President Nicolas Maduro.
Drivers in one neighbourhood veered around an overturned trash bin in the middle of a busy street. Security forces left behind dozens of empty tear gas canisters fired to subdue angry residents.
Student Jesus Veroes says he's saddened by a clash with police in his neighbourhood that left an important cultural centre a burned ruin.
Large demonstrations nationwide are expected Wednesday.
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Venezuelans Clean Up After Violent Protests in Capital
By Scott Smith & Fabiola Sanchez
Working class neighbourhoods in Venezuela's capital cleaned up charred rubble and smouldering trash Tuesday as they harboured fears that demonstrations called by the opposition could spur further violence.
Unrest broke out a day earlier when authorities arrested 27 members of the National Guard who were accused of launching an uprising against President Nicolas Maduro.
Opposition leaders, who are calling for nationwide protests Wednesday, have regained momentum in their efforts to confront the socialist president as the once-wealthy oil nation slides into a deepening political and economic crisis, with angry residents heeding the call to action.
Overnight, Venezuelans barricaded streets in dozens of Caracas areas that haven't seen such turmoil in years.
Local merchant Carmen Martinez said her neighbours were frustrated by rising costs and a lack of basic goods under the current government.
``The people are going into the streets just for that reason,'' Martinez said. ``What do you do? Nobody seems to notice us.''
The sound of gunfire was heard in some neighbourhoods, while people in others banged pots and pans from their open windows.
``Here we are all in the same holding pen: without light, without water, without medicine, without gas and with an uncertain future,'' Juan Guaido, president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, wrote on Twitter, calling for nationwide demonstrations and urging Venezuelans to abandon Maduro.
Guaido, a member of the Popular Will party, is also pursuing a campaign to gain the support of the armed forces, which Maduro's government relies on to suppress unrest.
Dozens of leaders in the international community have joined the chorus calling Maduro's presidency illegitimate.
U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence on Tuesday pledged his support for the people of Venezuela who take to the streets against Maduro.
``Nicolas Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power,'' Pence said in a video message. ``He has never won the presidency in a free and fair election, and has maintained his grip of power by imprisoning anyone who dares to oppose him.''
The government has accused the opposition of attempting to mount a coup.
The latest turmoil began Monday when a small group of soldiers took captive a captain in charge of a police station in western Caracas and stole a cache of weapons from another outpost. Officials said 25 soldiers were quickly caught at the National Guard outpost 3 kilometres (2 miles) from the Miraflores presidential palace, and two more arrests were made at another location.
The same night, another group of heavily armed national guardsmen published a series of videos on social media saying they won't recognize Maduro's government, citing Guaido's call to action.
Minister of Communication Jorge Rodriguez said at a Tuesday news conference that investigators recovered most of the 51 stolen weapons. The 11 still missing are in the hands of the Popular Will party, he said, without offering proof.
``We warn that the nexus has been clearly linked between terrorists in the Popular Will party and those who perpetrated isolated violence yesterday,'' Rodriguez said.
On Tuesday, drivers veered around an overturned garbage bin that still smouldered, while dozens of empty tear gas canisters fired by security forces at angry residents littered a nearby street.
Other roads remained blocked by gutted cars and tree branches.
People clustered on sidewalks trying to come to terms with the damage and thinking about what might happen during Wednesday's protests. The smell of tear gas lingered in the air.
The clash in that neighbourhood left a burned ruin of the Robert Serra cultural centre, which is named for an important Venezuelan socialist leader who is considered a martyr. It's unclear who burned the building, but officials say criminals threw gasoline bombs into the centre.
Student Jesus Veroes said he was saddened by the violence, but blamed people from outside the neighbourhood for the destruction of the centre, which was often used by children who go and read.
Mayerlin Arias, minister of urban agriculture, said on Twitter that the government condemns ``all fascist and terrorist acts that threaten our people and the historical legacy of the Bolivarian Revolution.''
``Robert Serra is an indestructible legacy of revolutionary struggle,'' she wrote.
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Venezuela Quells Soldiers' Revolt, Top Court Blasts Congress
By Fabiola Sanchez
Venezuela plunged deeper into turmoil on Monday as security forces put down a pre-dawn uprising by national guardsmen that triggered violent street protests and the Supreme Court outlawed the opposition-controlled congress' defiant new leadership.
Socialist party chief Diosdado Cabello said 27 guardsmen were arrested and more could be detained as the investigation unfolds.
The mutiny triggered protests in a poor neighbourhood just a few miles (kilometres) from Venezuela's presidential palace. It was dispersed with tear gas as residents set fire to a barricade of trash and chanted demands that President Nicolas Maduro leave power.
The military said in a statement said that it had recovered all the weapons and captured those involved in what it described as ``treasonous'' acts motivated by ``obscure interests tied to the far right.''
It said at around 2:50 a.m. (06:50 GMT), a small group of guardsmen took captive a captain in charge of a police station in western Caracas and then moved across the capital in two military trucks to the poor neighbourhood of Petare, where they stole a cache of weapons from another outpost.
They were caught a few hours later at a national guard outpost 3 kilometres (2 miles) from the Miraflores presidential palace.
A few hours earlier, a group of heavily armed national guardsmen published a series of videos on social media saying they won't recognize Maduro's government, which has come under increasing domestic and international pressure over a newly begun second term that the opposition-controlled congress and many nations consider illegitimate.
In one of the videos, a man identifying himself as 3rd Sgt. Alexander Bandres Figueroa, addressing the ``people of Venezuela,'' urges his compatriots to take to the streets to show support for their rebellion.
``You asked to take to the streets to defend the constitution, well here we are,'' he said in a video shot at night in which several heavily armed men and a national guard truck can be seen in the background.
``You wanted us to light the fuse, so we did. We need your support,'' he added.
At daybreak in the adjacent neighbourhood of Cotiza, a group of shirtless young men, some with their faces covered, built a barricade across the street with a burning car, heavy sewer grates and a large chunk of concrete.
An angry group of women shouted that they have lived for too long without running water.
``Freedom! Freedom!'' they chanted. ``Maduro has to go!''
``We must defend our homeland,'' Maria Fernanda Rodriguez, a 36-year-old manicurist, told The Associated Press, her eyes welling from the tear gas.
Hours later, the government-stacked Supreme Court said it was throwing out recent measures by the National Assembly that declared Maduro's presidency illegitimate, deepening a standoff with the opposition-controlled legislature.
The justices ruled that the new leadership of congress itself is invalid, and urged the country's chief prosecutor to investigate whether congressional leaders had acted criminally in openly defying the nation's constitution.
Juan Guaido, president of congress, shrugged off the court's warning and reiterated his call for people to take to the streets Wednesday _ a historic date commemorating the end of Venezuela's military dictatorship in 1958 _ to demand Maduro abandon power.
``The National Assembly is the only institution elected by the people of Venezuela,'' Guaido said at a press conference at the legislature.
Dozens of foreign governments have refused to recognize Maduro's second term, some saying they are ready to recognize Guaido as interim president until fair elections can be held.
In addition, the Trump administration is weighing tougher financial sanctions on Venezuela, while a dozen mostly conservative Latin American and Caribbean governments said they will block officials from Maduro's government from entering their countries and take steps to freeze assets that are the byproduct of corruption
While discontent among Venezuelans is rising amid widespread food shortages and hyperinflation, Maduro is believed to have the loyalty of his top military command. In the past, troops have easily put down small uprisings.
Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said on Twitter that those responsible for the incident would be punished with the full force of the law.
Maduro was the target of an apparent assassination attempt Aug. 4 when two drones armed with explosives detonated near him as he spoke at a military parade. Officials have jailed dozens of suspects, including an opposition lawmaker.
In June 2017, rogue police officer Oscar Perez stole a helicopter and flew it over the capital, launching grenades at the Supreme Court building. He and several comrades died in a gunbattle with police after months on the lam.
The Canadian Press & the Associated Press. All rights are reserved.