Guaidó urges mil­i­tary to de­fect from Maduro regime

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Nation & World - BY MANUEL RUEDA AND FABI­OLA SANCHEZ As­so­ci­ated Press

Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion leader called on more mem­bers of the mil­i­tary to aban­don the coun­try’s so­cial­ist gov­ern­ment fol­low­ing Satur­day’s de­fec­tion of a high-rank­ing air force gen­eral.

Pres­i­dent Ni­colás Maduro pro­posed hold­ing early Na­tional As­sem­bly elec­tions that could po­ten­tially oust his chal­lenger. Maduro’s call for early leg­isla­tive vot­ing is likely to in­ten­sify a po­lit­i­cal stand­off with ri­val Juan Guaidó, who heads the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled Na­tional As­sem­bly and is de­mand­ing a new pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Guaidó de­clared him­self Venezue-

la’s le­git­i­mate ruler on Jan. 23, and has the sup­port of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and most South Amer­i­can na­tions.

Speak­ing from be­hind a podium dec­o­rated with Venezuela’s pres­i­den­tial seal, Guaidó told sup­port­ers he would keep his op­po­si­tion move­ment in the streets un­til Maduro stopped “usurp­ing” the coun­try’s pres­i­dency and agreed to a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion over­seen by in­ter­na­tional ob­servers. On Satur­day, tens of thousands of Venezue­lans joined op­po­si­tion protests against Maduro in Cara­cas and other cities.

Guaidó called on “blocks” of the mil­i­tary to de­fect from Maduro’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and “get on the side of the Venezue­lan people.”

“We don’t just want you to stop shoot­ing at pro­test­ers,” Guaidó said in a hoarse voice. “We want you to be part of the re­con­struc­tion of Venezuela.”

He said that in the com­ing days, the op­po­si­tion would try to move hu­man­i­tar­ian aid into the coun­try by land and sea along three bor­der points, in­clud­ing the Colom­bian city of Cú­cuta. He de­scribed the move as a “test” for Venezuela’s armed forces, which will have to choose if they al­low the much needed aid to pass, or if they in­stead obey the or­ders of Maduro’s gov­ern­ment.

Maduro also dug in his heels, in­sist­ing he was the only pres­i­dent of Venezuela and de­scrib­ing Satur­day’s anti-gov­ern­ment

protests as part of a U.S.led coup at­tempt.

“I agree that the leg­isla­tive power of the coun­try be re-le­git­imized and that we hold free elec­tions with guar­an­tees, and the people choose a new Na­tional As­sem­bly,” Maduro said at a pro-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tion in Cara­cas. The op­po­si­tion con­trols the Na­tional As­sem­bly while gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers con­trol the pow­er­ful Con­stituent As­sem­bly.

The so­cial­ist leader also had words for the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump which re­cently im­posed sanc­tions on Venezue­lan oil ex­ports in an ef­fort to un­der­mine Maduro’s main source of in­come and weaken his grip on power.

“Do you think you are the em­peror of the world?” he asked Trump. “Do you think Venezuela is go­ing to give up and obey your or­ders? We will not sur­ren­der.”

The stand­off comes amid what ap­pears to be grow­ing dis­sen­sion among the ranks of Venezuela’s pow­er­ful mil­i­tary.

Ear­lier Satur­day, a Venezue­lan air force gen­eral de­fected from Maduro’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and called on his com­pa­tri­ots to par­tic­i­pate in protests against the so­cial­ist leader’s rule.

Gen. Fran­cisco Yánez is the first high rank­ing of­fi­cer to leave Maduro’s gov­ern­ment since Jan. 23, when Guaido de­clared him­self the coun­try’s le­git­i­mate leader by in­vok­ing two ar­ti­cles of the Venezue­lan con­sti­tu­tion that he ar­gues give him the right to as­sume pres­i­den­tial pow­ers. He con­sid­ers Maduro’s elec­tion win fraud­u­lent.

In a YouTube video, Yánez de­scribed Maduro as a dic­ta­tor and re­ferred to Guaidó as his pres­i­dent. He didn’t say if he was still in Venezuela or had left the coun­try.

JUAN CAR­LOS HER­NAN­DEZ AP

Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion leader Juan Guaidó, cen­ter, who has de­clared him­self the in­terim pres­i­dent of Venezuela, ar­rives Satur­day at a demon­stra­tion in Cara­cas.

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