Caracas, May 1 (IANS) Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro claimed to have defeated what he called a “military coup” attempt by opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Dozens of National Guardsmen sided with the opposition in clashes on Tuesday that injured more than 100 people, making it the most violent episode of the Venezuelan political crisis this year.
In a defiant TV address later on Tuesday, Maduro said Guaido, who declared himself interim President in January, had failed to turn the military against him, the BBC reported on Wednesday.
Guaido, however, insists that Maduro has lost control of the armed forces and that a peaceful transition is at hand. He appealed to his supporters to take to the streets of Venezuela again on Wednesday.
He has been recognized as interim leader of Venezuela by more than 50 countries, including the US, the UK and most in Latin America.
But Maduro, backed by Russia, China and the top of the country’s military, has refused to cede leadership to his rival.
In his televised address, flanked by military commanders, Maduro accused protesters of “serious crimes” which he said would “not go unpunished”. He also called on his supporters to take to the streets, setting up more potential violent unrest in a nation already beset by economic crisis, chronic power cuts and widespread food shortages.
Maduro slammed the US, which he accuses of plotting against him. He dismissed a claim by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that he had a plane ready on the tarmac to take him to Cuba, a staunch supporter of the beleaguered President.
“They had an airplane on the tarmac,” Pompeo had said. “He was ready to leave this morning (Tuesday), as we understand it. Russians indicated he should stay.”
Pompeo’s claim was also refuted by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who told CNN: “Washington tried its best to demoralize the Venezuelan Army and now used fakes as a part of information war.”
A three-minute video by Guaido published in the early hours of Tuesday showed him standing alongside a number of men in military uniform. He announced that he had the support of “brave soldiers” in Caracas.
He urged Venezuelans to join them in the streets and appeared alongside another prominent opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who had been under house arrest since 2014.
Lopez said he had been freed by members of the military who had declared their loyalty to Guaido.
Guaido has been calling on the military to back him ever since he declared himself interim President. He argues Maduro is a “usurper” because he was re-elected in polls that had been widely disputed.
UN Secretary General António Guterres has appealed for both sides to avoid violence. The US reiterated its support for Guaido. An emergency meeting of the Lima Group of Latin American countries has been scheduled for Friday.