GUNFIRE was heard on the streets of Venezuela today after Juan Guaido today called for a military uprising in a video call to arms against Nicolas Maduro’s government.
The opposition leader – who is backed by the US – was earlier seen surrounded by dozens of troops outside an air force base in the capital Caracas.
AP:Associated Press An opponent to President Maduro throws a tear gas canister back at state troops
A man takes cover from gunfire in Caracas as clashed broke out between rival factions
People fleeing across a bridge as the sound of gunfire was heard
In a dawn address Guaido he declared the “beginning the final phase of Operation Freedom” had begun.
He was pictured near the air force flanked by a group of men in uniform – many wearing blue ribbons on their sleeves.
Government security forces fired tear gas at Guaido, his supporters and around 70 armed men in military uniform.
Video footage showed people fleeing as the sound of bullets being fired rang through the air.
So far, the military, and in particular the higher ranks, have repeatedly pledged their loyalty to President Nicolas Maduro.
He defiantly tweeted: “Nerves of steel. I call for maximum popular mobilization to assure the victory of peace. We will win!”
Maduro said he had spoken with military leaders and they had shown him “their total loyalty”.
But in a bid to gain armed forces support, the opposition has developed an amnesty proposal that would grant amnesty to soldiers who willingly break ranks with the current government.
Reuters Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido puts on a united front a with a military leader
AFP or licensors Members of the Bolivarian National Guard loyal to Nicolas Maduro run under a cloud of tear gas after being repelled by forces backing Juan Guaido
AFP or licensors Guaido’s forces used live bullets on the Maduro loyalists
AFP or licensors Soldiers backing Juan Guaido take position in front of La Carlota air base
EPA A Guaido supporter uses a gas mask to protect herself from the tear gas launched by the security forces loyal to Nicolas Maduro
US national security adviser John Bolton appeared to back Juan Guaido and back his effort to oust President Nicolas Maduro.
“The FANB must protect the Constitution and the Venezuelan people. It should stand by the National Assembly and the legitimate institutions against the usurpation of democracy.
“The United States stands with the people of Venezuela,” Bolton tweeted, referring to the FANB armed forces.
Meanwhile, Venezuela’s socialist party boss, Diosdado Cabello, called on government supporters to amass at the presidential palace to defend Maduro from what he called a small uprising of traitorous military soldiers backed by the US.
He desperately tried to downplay the significance of the rebellion, saying Caracas is calm and that the air base near where the rebellious soldiers are gathered had not been touched.
Cabello said the opposition had not been able to take over the air base, which he said remained “absolutely under the operational control” of the government.
In the three-minute video, Guaido said any soldiers who took to the streets would be acting to protect Venezuela’s constitution.
He made the comments a day before a planned anti-government rally due to be held on Wednesday.
“The moment is now,” he said, as his political mentor Leopoldo Lopez and several heavily armed soldiers backed by a single armoured vehicle looked on.
Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido appears in video surrounded by soldiers saying he’s begun ‘final phase’ to oust Nicolas Maduro
Getty Images – Getty Pro-Guaido soldiers point their weapons towards a cameraman
Reuters Gun fire was heard in the hours after the video call to arms
Reuters Soldiers and people react to the sound of the gunfire
Sky News Guaido called on the heroes of the army to stand by him in a Twitter video
AP:Associated Press Guaido talking to a military officer outside La Carlota air base
Reuters Troops wearing gas masks have been seen on the streets of Caracas
AP:Associated Press Soldiers loyal to Guaido set up machine guns on an overpass in the Venezuelan capital
AP:Associated Press Former bus driver Nicolas Maduro took power as president in 2013
Lopez has been under house arrest for leading an anti-government push in 2014.
Guaido later told CNN Espanol: ““Evidently, there is no such backing of the armed forces to Maduro’s regime.
“Communication was blocked between civilian leaders and the democratic armed forces of Venezuela … but we have been able to pierce through that.
“It’s great news for the entire country that the military of Venezuela’s armed forces have taken this step. They were an important part of this.
“This was fundamental not only for a transitioning, but to recover Venezuela’s sovereignty. Here we are next to our legislators, the military and soon with the people of Venezuela.
“We are determined to conquer freedom for our country.”
Regarding Lopez, Guaido said: “We have decreed amnesty and the release for jailed politicians. This is the beginning of the (release) of political leaders and military personnel.”
What is the military’s stance in Venezuela?While most military leaders openly back Maduro, the lower ranks are ill-equipped and are constantly monitored by the intelligence services.
Salaries have hugely decreased over the years and more than 4,000 low-ranking officers have deserted during the last 12 months.
“The middle ranks are earning around $3 to $4 a month, and that is impacting their own structure,” said one expert on Venezuela’s armed forces.
The military has also struggled to maintain its equipment as it suffers from a shortage of spare parts.
According to some analysts, intelligence agents are also embedded among the military forces to guard against anti-regime activity.
Those troops who support the opposition have been accused of betrayal and have been arrested, according to Human Rights Watch.
Authorities have also arrested the family members of some suspects in an effort to determine their whereabouts, the rights group said.
Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez tweeted that the government was confronting a small group of “military traitors” seeking to promote a coup.
Guaido, in the video posted on his Twitter account, spoke in the company of men in military uniform and opposition politician Lopez, who is under house arrest.
“The national armed forces have taken the correct decision, and they are counting on the support of the Venezuelan people,” Guaido said.
President Donald Trump is monitoring the situation in Venezuela, the White House said this afternoon.
Spain said it did not support any military coup, even though it considered Guaido as the country’s legitimate leader.
Guaido, the leader of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, in January invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, arguing that Maduro’s re-election in 2018 was illegitimate.
He has been travelling outside the capital, Caracas, more and more in recent weeks to try to put pressure on Maduro to step down.
Protests are planned for Wednesday including what Guaido has said will be “the largest march in Venezuela’s history”, part of what he calls the “definitive phase” of his effort to take office in order to call fresh elections.
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Around 50 countries including the United States have recognised Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president.
Maduro calls Guaido a US-backed puppet who seeks to oust him in a coup. The government has arrested his top aide, stripped Guaido of his parliamentary immunity and barred him from leaving the country
Last week, Guaido said his congressional ally – opposition lawmaker Gilber Caro – had been detained, and that 11 members of his team had been summoned to appear before the Sebin intelligence agency.
Reuters A military member throws a tear gas canister near the air base
Reuters The military has so far supported his rival President Nicolas Maduro
AP:Associated Press A Guaido supporter wipes her eyes after tear gas was fired by government troops
Reuters An opposition demonstrator peers over a concrete barrier
Reuters Journalists later reported how security forces fired tear gas at Guaido and his supporters
AP:Associated Press A military vehicle blocks an avenue next to La Carlota air base
AP:Associated Press A soldier stands on an avenue leading up to the military base
Reuters Activist Leopoldo Lopez was also seen near the Caracas air base
Reuters Lorries seal off one of the main roads running through the capital
Reuters An opposition supporter waves a Venezuelan flag