Monday 17 June 2019

Venezuela's opposition leader launches coup to oust President Maduro

People react to tear gas near the Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase
People react to tear gas near the Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase "La Carlota", in Caracas, Venezuela April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A military member throws a tear gas canister near the Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase "La Carlota", in Caracas, Venezuela April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A military member stands near the Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase "La Carlota", in Caracas, Venezuela April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
An opposition supporter waves a Venezuelan flag near the Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase "La Carlota", in Caracas, Venezuela April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Scott Smith

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has taken to the streets with activist Leopoldo Lopez and a small contingent of heavily armed soldiers in a bold call for the military to rise up and oust socialist leader Nicolas Maduro.

"I want to tell the Venezuelan people: This is the moment to take to the streets and accompany these patriotic soldiers," said Mr Lopez in his first public appearance since being detained in 2014 for leading anti-government protests.

"Everyone should come to the streets, in peace."

Mr Lopez said he has been freed by members of the military responding to an order by Mr Guaido, whom the US and dozens of other governments recognise as Venezuela's rightful leader.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognised as the country's rightful interim ruler, is seen outside Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognised as the country's rightful interim ruler, is seen outside Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase "La Carlota", in Caracas, Venezuela April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

As Mr Lopez spoke, there were sporadic efforts with tear gas to break up the protesters who gathered on an overpass in wealthier eastern Caracas.

It appeared to have been fired from inside the Carlota air base.

But more people gathered as they sensed what could be their strongest opportunity yet to overthrow the government with Mr Guaido declaring tweeting to say the final phase of what he called Operation Liberty had begun.

"It's now or never," said one of the young soldiers, his face covered in the blue bandanna preferred by the few dozen soldiers who stood alongside Mr Guaido and Mr Lopez.

Military members stand near the Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase
Military members stand near the Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase "La Carlota", in Caracas, Venezuela April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

Socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello downplayed the significance of the rebellion, saying most of Caracas was in complete calm.

He called on government supporters to amass at the presidential palace to defend Mr Maduro from what he said was a US-backed coup attempt.

The tumultuous events started when Mr Guaido appeared in an early morning video shot next to the air base.

He was surrounded by the heavily armed soldiers backed by a few armoured vehicles

Mr Guaido said soldiers who had taken to the streets were protecting Venezuela's constitution.

Venezuelan information minister Jorge Rodriguez said on Twitter that Maduro's government is confronting a small "coup attempt" led by military "traitors" backed by right-wing opponents.

In his Twitter appeal to the people, Mr Rodriguez pledged the government would win the confrontation.

Press Association

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