Saturday 25 May 2019

Maduro thanks his military backers as uprising bid falters

Juan Guaidó: Called for people of Venezuela to take to the streets. Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Juan Guaidó: Called for people of Venezuela to take to the streets. Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Ben Riley-Smith

Venezuela's military was thanked by President Nicolás Maduro for resisting calls to rise up against his regime yesterday after days of violent clashes.

In a show of defiance and strength, Mr Maduro took part in an early morning parade with what his administration said were 4,500 military personnel.

"Yes, we are in combat, keep morale high in this fight to disarm any traitor, any coup plotter," Mr Maduro said at the televised event.

Pictures showed Mr Maduro (56) waving in a cap and jacket surrounded by soldiers at a military base in Caracas.

State television reportedly called the parade a "march to reaffirm the absolute loyalty of the armed forces". Both Vladimir Padrino, the defence minister, and Remigio Ceballos, the military operations chief, flanked Mr Maduro.

The message was an attempt to reassert control after 48 hours that saw calls for a military uprising, protests marred in violence and speculation that senior figures could defect.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, violent scenes played out across the country as thousands of supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaidó took to the streets in support of his claim to be president.

Security forces that remained loyal to Mr Maduro used tear gas, water cannon and, according to reports on the ground, live fire to keep the crowds under control.

Human rights organisations and health services reported 46 people injured in Wednesday's clashes, including one person with a gunshot wound.

Jurubith Rausseo (27) died after being hit by a "bullet in the head", according to the non-governmental Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict.

The opposition also claimed that two teenage boys were killed after being hit by gunfire during pro-opposition protests.

The government said more than 150 people had been arrested.

Mr Guaidó expressed optimism about claiming power during an interview with the Fox Business Network despite Mr Maduro being still in place as the week neared its end.

"As long as we are mobilised and united, we are very close to achieving our freedom," he said. "Can't tell you a specific date or time. Working on transition. Democracy has always taken time."

The dramatic events could spell even more uncertainty for Venezuela, which has been rocked by three months of political upheaval since Mr Guaidó re-energised a flagging opposition movement by declaring himself interim president, saying Mr Maduro had usurped power.

Now the struggle has heightened geopolitical dimensions, with the United States and more than 50 other nations backing Mr Guaidó as Venezuela's legitimate president and Maduro allies like Russia lending the beleaguered president support.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton said that Mr Maduro was surrounded by "scorpions in a bottle" and that key figures among his inner circle had been "outed" as dealing with the opposition.

The United States contends Mr Maduro had been ready to flee on Tuesday, an airplane already on the tarmac, but was talked out of it by Russian advisers. Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry, said such assertions were part of a "global information and psychological war against Venezuela." (© Daily Telegraph London)

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