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Venezuelan army backs Maduro, condemns Guaido

media Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino speaks during a press conference in Caracas on 24 January 2019. Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP

Venezuela’s influential army has thrown its support behind President Nicolas Maduro in the face of a challenge to his rule by US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Top military brass promised to defend the country against what they called a “coup d’etat” led by Guaido, the head of the national assembly who has declared himself “acting president” and garnered support by the US as well as regional powers.

“Yesterday we saw a reprehensible event: a man proclaiming himself president of the Bolivarian republic of Venezuela,” said Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino, in comments broadcast by state television.

'A coup against democracy'

Padrino, flanked by a number of generals, said Guaido was attempting to carry out a coup d’etat against the country’s institutions, constitution, president and ultimately against democracy itself.

Venezuela was plunged into uncertainty on Wednesday when Guaido declared himself as “acting president”, a statement endorsed by Washington as well as the governments of Brazil, Argentina and Colombia.

Socialist leader Maduro has maintained the support of the military since his re-election last year despite the polls being criticised by the opposition.

The declaration by Guaido has divided opinion in Caracas especially with US President Donald Trump weighing in with recognition of the opposition leader over the “illegitimate Maduro regime”.

US 'propaganda'

“They’re under the orders of media propaganda led by this madman Donald Trump,” said one Maduro supporter, according to RFI’s Caracas correspondent Benjamin Delille. “Yankees, go home.”

However, opposition supporters believe Guaido will help bring order to the country. “They’re on the right path, they respect our constitution and laws,” said Luis.

The US government has maintained pressure on Maduro’s leftist government with calls for an emergency meeting at the UN Security Council. “The time for debate is done,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, during a speech to the Organisation of American States, according to the AFP news agency.

Pompeo warned Venezuelan authorities not to use force against demonstrators. The Caracas-based Social Conflict Observatory, a non-governmental organisation, said 26 people have been killed in protests over the last four days.

Heavyweight backing

Russia and China have both thrown their weight behind Maduro. Russian President Vladimir Putin called the Venezuelan president and expressed his support, according to the Reuters news agency.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said that they pursued a policy of “non-interference” in other countries’ internal matters. “We oppose foreign interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela,” Hua said in a press conference, the Xinhua news agency reported.

French President Emmanuel Macron said, “Europe supports the restoration of democracy” in Venezuela, describing Maduro’s re-election as “illegal”.

“I salute the courage of the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who are marching for their freedom,” said Macron in a tweet in French and Spanish.

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