Maduro threatens Venezuelan opposition leader with new elections

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido waves to his supporters next to his wife Fabiana Rosales outside their house in Caracas

Venezuelan President Niсolas Maduro has called for early elections to the National Assembly - a legislative body dominated by the opposition and led by Juan Guaido who declared himself interim leader last week.

The officer later confirmed he would not give further statements until given authorisation by "the commander-in-chief of the legal armed force which is President Juan Guaido".

The military's support is crucial for Maduro, who is deeply unpopular, largely due to an unprecedented economic crisis that has prompted an exodus of millions.

Mr Maduro claims he is a victim of a coup directed by the United States.

"[Guaido] was sworn in in front of the national assembly that was elected in fair elections and he is doing what he has to do according to our constitution", she said.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro attends a military exercise in in Caracas, Venezuela February 1, 2019.

"We don't just want you to stop shooting at protesters", Guaido said in a hoarse voice.

Dressed in a red shirt, the socialist leader took part in celebrations in central Caracas marking the 20th anniversary of his predecessor Hugo Chavez's ascent to power.

In the east of the capital, self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido led an opposition rally demanding that Maduro resign and new presidential elections.

"Maduro is not president and the Constituent Assembly has no legitimacy, no value", he said.

"People of Venezuela, 90 per cent of the armed forces of Venezuela are not with the dictator, they are with the people of Venezuela", Yanez said in the video.

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However, General Francisco Yanez of the air force's high command became the first active Venezuelan general to recognize Guaido since he proclaimed himself president on January 23.

Guaido called on "blocks" of the military to defect from Maduro's administration and "get on the side of the Venezuelan people". "Already the transition to democracy is imminent".

Venezuela's high command lists Francisco Yanez as the head of air force strategic planning on their website, complete with a photo resembling the man in the video. The previously little-known 35-year old industrial engineer has offered the military and public officials amnesty if they defect.

Mr Guaido swore himself in as interim president in a direct challenge to Mr Maduro's rule, but still has no control over state institutions or any functions of day-to-day governance.

In a country where the socialist leader's foes often end up behind bars, Guaido has thus far managed to avoid arrest, but in recent days authorities have let it be known that even as his powerful global support grows Guaido isn't untouchable.

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.

Later Thursday, Guaido told The Associated Press that he will defy a government ban on humanitarian aid by sending large convoys of medicine into the country with the help of neighboring nations. "It won't be an easy task".

Australia, along with many countries in the West, has recognised Mr Guaido as the legitimate president. Some European Union member states are expected to officially recognize Guaido next week, while others will likely take a more cautious stance of support.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters on Monday that by blocking PDVSA's assets, the Trump administration was taking care of the company "in the interests of the people" of Venezuela, and also protecting the oil market.

At Maduro's rally, supporters blamed the opposition for undermining the Bolivarian Revolution plans through years of protests and seeking financial sanctions against the Venezuelan government.

"In a few weeks they will have to choose if they let much needed aid into the country. or if they side with Nicolas Maduro", said Guaido.

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