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Juan Guaido UPI/PA Images

Pressure on Maduro as self-declared president calls for 'biggest march in history of Venezuela'

Tomorrow’s rally coincides with the 20th anniversary of Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez.

OPPOSITION LEADER JUAN Guaido has appealed to his countrymen to take to the streets at the weekend for “the biggest march in the history of Venezuela” in a bid to rachet up pressure on embattled President Nicolas Maduro to call early elections.

Major European countries have set a weekend deadline for Maduro to call such elections or they will join the United States in recognising Guaido, the speaker of the national assembly, as Venezuela’s interim president.

“Nicolas Maduro will do well not to test the resolve of the United States of America. Maduro’s tyranny must end and must end now,” US Vice President Mike Pence warned at a rally of Venezuelan exiles in Miami.

Tomorrow’s march will coincide with the ruling Socialist party’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of the rise to power of Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s deceased predecessor.

Guaido warned in a letter to the presidents of Mexico and Uruguay published today that he would only enter into negotiations if they serve to “start the transition process, culminating in the holding of free elections”.

Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Uruguay’s Tabare Vazquez have jointly called a conference in Montevideo next Thursday for “neutral” countries to discuss the crisis.

Previous negotiations all had the same “unsatisfactory result”, Guaido wrote. “The dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro has not changed its position. They have mocked the Venezuelan people to their face.”

Maduro to mark Chavez anniversary 

Guaido called tomorrow’s rally to coincide with one convened by government supporters to mark the late Chavez’s assumption of office as Venezuela’s president 2 February 1999 at the head of a socialist movement.

“We must all take to the streets of Venezuela and the world with a clear goal: to accompany the ultimatum given by members of the European Union,” Guaido said yesterday.

We are going to stage the biggest march in the history of Venezuela and our continent.

In a speech at Caracas university, he said elite security forces went to his home to threaten his family, blaming the government of Maduro.

The move heightened fears for the security of the 35-year-old National Assembly leader, who declared himself acting president last week in a bold challenge to Maduro’s authority.

Earlier, European lawmakers recognised Guaido as the acting head of state – another step forward in his bid to force out the socialist leader who has presided over the oil-rich country’s economic collapse.

Several opposition leaders have been jailed in recent years as Maduro cracked down on growing dissent in the Latin American country.

The last 10 days of political upheaval have exacerbated the general disarray in Venezuela, which has the world’s largest proven oil reserves but has suffered hyperinflation and shortages of basic necessities.

The UN says 2.3 million have fled the country, unleashing a migration crisis in South America.

Dramatic turn

The dramatic turn against Maduro’s leftist regime culminated quickly, but it came after weeks of behind-the-scenes diplomacy including a hushed meeting in Washington with Guaido, who was quickly recognised by Washington as Venezuela’s president.

However, Venezuela’s Supreme Court – dominated by regime loyalists – has frozen his assets and ordered him not to leave the country.

Yesterday, lawmakers at the European Parliament voted to accept Guaido as “legitimate interim president of the country” – and urged the European Union to follow suit.

Four major European powers – Britain, France, Germany and Spain – have said they would do so if Maduro fails to call presidential elections by the weekend. 

The US yesterday urged all European countries to recognise Guaido, but Maduro has told the “imperialists” to wait until 2025 for new elections.

During his speech, Guaido presented the broad outlines of a rescue plan for a country in economic meltdown.

“We are going to address the humanitarian emergency, stop inflation in its tracks, reactivate the oil industry and move towards the restoration of access to public goods and services,” he said to cheers.

Part of the plan unveiled by the opposition leader and his economic advisor Jose Guerra is to end exchange controls in force since 2003 and renegotiate Venezuela’s estimated $150 billion debt.

Guaido wrote in a New York Times op-ed published on Wednesday that “clandestine meetings” had been held with members of the armed forces and security forces, who he is trying to woo with an amnesty offer.

But Guaido’s moves to court the military are fraught with risk. Last week fewer than 30 soldiers rose up against Maduro, precipitating protests that, according to the United Nations, ended with more than 40 dead and hundreds detained.

So far, the military high command has remained loyal to Maduro.

© AFP 2019  

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