Guaido calls Venezuela's defections while Maduro is still


The Venezuelan leader of the opposition, Juan Guaido, reiterated an appeal for the army to desert the country's socialist government on Saturday, since President Nicolas Maduro seems to intensify a deeper political stand by proposing to hold early elections at the National Assembly that could potentially dispossess his challenger.

Speaking from behind a podium decorated with Venezuela's presidential seal, Guaido promised thousands of roaring supporters that he would keep his opposition movement on the streets until Maduro stopped "usurping" the country's presidency and agreed to organize new presidential elections supervised by international observers.

The 35-year-old president of the Venezuelan National Assembly has outlined the recent moves by the opposition and called for the "blocks" of the army to desert the administration of Maduro and "take the part of the Venezuelan people" .

"We do not just want you to stop firing demonstrators," Guaido said hoarsely. "We want you to be part of the reconstruction of Venezuela".

He also said that in the following days, the opposition movement would try to move humanitarian aid to the country by land and sea along three border points, including the Columbian city of Cucuta. He described the move as a "test" for the Venezuelan armed forces, who will have to choose whether to allow the passage of much needed help, or whether they will obey the orders of the Maduro government.

A few minutes later, Maduro surpassed his own beliefs claiming to be the only president of Venezuela and to propose new elections to replace the National Assembly dominated by Venezuela's opposition.

"I agree that the legislative power of the country is regained and that we hold free elections with guarantees and that people choose a new National Assembly," said Maduro to a pro-government demonstration in the capital of Caracas.

Maduro described the latest protests against his government as part of a US-led coup attempt and called on his supporters to organize their march in defense of his Bolivarian Revolution.

The socialist leader also had words for the administration of US President Donald Trump who recently imposed sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports in an effort to undermine Maduro's main source of income and weaken his grip on the country.

"Do you think you are the emperor of the world?" he asked Trump. "Do you think Venezuela will surrender and obey your orders? We will not give up."

The stalemate lies in the midst of what appears to be the growing dissension between the ranks of the country's powerful military.

Earlier on Saturday a Venezuelan air force general had deserted the administration of Maduro and had invited his compatriots to participate in the protests against the government of the socialist leader.

General Francisco Yanez is the first high-ranking official to leave the government of Maduro since January 23, when Guaido declared himself a legitimate leader of the country by invoking two articles of the Venezuelan constitution that claims to give him the right to assume presidential powers.

In a YouTube video, General Yanez described Maduro as a dictator and referred to Guaido as his president, but refused to say whether he is still in Venezuela or if he left the country.

The official confirmed a call with the Associated Press, from a Colombian number, the veracity of his statement and said he would not provide any further statements until it was authorized by the "commander in chief of the armed legal force. that is president Juan "Guaido."

The military controls some of Venezuela's key assets, including the state oil company, and until now, its peak has helped Maduro survive a series of mass protests in 2014 and 2017 by prison activists and the repression of protesters.

Yanez said in his video that "90 percent of the armed forces" is against Maduro, but it is not clear how many will actively support the opposition.

Shortly after the protests erupted against Maduro last week, the most important regional military commanders of Venezuela and its defense minister issued a statement in support of Maduro, describing Guaido as a bastard of the US-backed coup.

The Venezuelan aerospace command of the armed forces shared an image of Yanez on his Twitter account with the words "traitor" above.

"We reject the statements made by General Yanez who betrayed his oath of loyalty to our nation and chose to follow foreign plans," wrote the command.

On Saturday, Maduro said he was willing to sit down for opposition talks in an effort to promote national "harmony".

But that offer was rejected by Guaido who describes it as a Maduro administration maneuver to save time.

Previous talks between the government and the opposition have failed to change the electoral conditions in the South American country, and many political leaders have been forced into exile.

At the Maduro demonstration, supporters have accused the opposition of undermining the Bolivarian Revolution's plans through years of protests and the search for financial sanctions against the Venezuelan government.

Zeleyka Muskus, a 53-year-old tax collector in Caracas, said the opposition is responsible for the country's current economic problems, saying they have staged years of protests that have caused injuries and killings.

"Chavez is the love of my life," he said, referring to the late Venezuelan president. "We want the sovereignty of this country to be respected".

Other public operators present at the pro-government demonstration said they had been forced to go there by their leaders.

Meanwhile, the flows of protesters from middle and poor neighborhoods headed to one side of the capital and said they were demanding the resignation of Maduro and a transitional government that would hold new presidential elections in the South American country.

Xiomara Espinoza, 59, said he felt a change of energy in the crowd, whose hopes for a transition in Venezuela were previously dashed.

"We are behind the corner of freedom," he said, slamming a pot and wearing a Venezuelan flag.

Associated Press writers Scott Smith, Joshua Goodman and Jorge Rueda contributed to the drafting of reports from Caracas, Venezuela.



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