The US yesterday stepped up its criticism of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro with an explicit call for the formation of a new government in the South American country.
The US state department said it stood behind the head of Venezuela's opposition-run congress, Juan Guaido, who said last Friday that he was prepared to step into the presidency temporarily to replace Maduro.
And yesterday Brazil's government said it recognised Venezuela's congressional leader as the country's rightful president.
The US statement was the latest in a series of Trump administration attacks on Maduro, whose inauguration to a new term as president last Thursday has been widely denounced as illegitimate.
"The people of Venezuela deserve to live in freedom in a democratic society governed by the rule of law," State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said. "It is time to begin the orderly transition to a new government. We support the National Assembly's call for all Venezuelans to work together, peacefully, to restore constitutional government and build a better future."
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to Guaido earlier last week shortly after the 35-year-old was elected to lead the National Assembly.
Pompeo told reporters traveling with him that the events taking place in Venezuela were "incredibly important", adding: "The Maduro regime is illegitimate and the US will continue... to work diligently to restore a real democracy to that country."
Guaido, speaking to a crowd blocking a Caracas street a day after Maduro's inauguration, said he was willing to become interim leader. But he said he would need support from the public, the armed forces and other countries and international groups before trying to form a transitional government to hold new elections to replace Maduro.
Seventeen Latin American countries, the US and Canada denounced Maduro's government as illegitimate in a measure adopted last Thursday at the Organisation of American States in Washington.
Guaido asked Venezuelans to mass in a nationwide demonstration on January 23 - the day when a mass uprising overthrew dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez in 1958.
The constitution assigns the presidency to the head of the National Assembly if Maduro is illegitimate.
The military generally has remained firmly behind Maduro so far despite some reports of small-scale attempts at revolt.
A once wealthy oil nation, Venezuela is gripped by a growing crisis of relentless inflation, food shortages and mass migration.
© Associated Press