Caracas, Venezuela, May 3 – Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Thursday called for peaceful demonstrations at army bases, days after a military uprising in support of his bid to oust President Nicolas Maduro fizzled out.
The latest appeal came after Maduro called on the armed forces of the crisis-wracked nation to oppose “any coup plotter”, as the embattled leader dug in his heels in the face of ongoing protests and international pressure, especially from the United States.
In a tweet, Guaido asked supporters to gather for peaceful demonstrations on Saturday at military bases in a bid to get soldiers to “support the constitution.”
Guaido — recognized by more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s interim president — had on Tuesday called on the military to rise up against Maduro, and a small group heeded his call.
But that movement fizzled out, and sparked two days of protests against the government during which four people were killed.
The military leadership has reiterated its support for the government, and Maduro is standing his ground.
“Yes, we are in combat — keep morale high in this fight to disarm any traitor, any coup plotter,” he said at a televised event with the military high command, at which he was surrounded by soldiers.
“No one can be afraid — it is the hour to defend our right to peace,” he said at the ceremony, which was attended by 4,500 military personnel, according to the government.
And Defense Minister General Vladimir Padrino said: “We’ve come to ratify our loyalty… to the supreme commander of the armed forces, who is our only president, President Nicolas Maduro.”
– ‘Brutal repression’ –
Meanwhile, Venezuela’s supreme court ordered the re-arrest of influential opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez — who made a dramatic appearance alongside Guaido on Tuesday after he was freed from house arrest.
Lopez has since taken refuge at the Spanish embassy. Madrid has said it would not hand over Lopez to Venezuelan authorities, nor would it ask him to leave.
The 48-year-old was a prominent opposition leader in 2014 when he was imprisoned after calling for protests against Maduro. He was transferred to house arrest in 2017.
And in Washington, US President Donald Trump offered prayers at a White House service for “the people of Venezuela in their righteous struggle for freedom.”
“The brutal repression of the Venezuelan people must end, and it must end soon,” he said.
The president also warned in an interview with Fox News that Washington has “lots of options and some of them are very tough options.”
“There’s always a tipping point” for military intervention, he said, while adding: “I’d rather not do that.”
Opposition lawmakers and family members announced Thursday that two teenage protesters — one in Caracas and the other in the northern town of La Victoria — had died of injuries sustained in the anti-government protests after the Tuesday uprising, raising the death toll to four.
Human rights organizations and health services have reported that dozens of people were hurt on both Tuesday and Wednesday, and the government said more than 150 people were arrested on Tuesday.
So far, 25 rebel soldiers have sought asylum at the Brazilian embassy after the failed push against Maduro.
– US-Russia meeting –
Tensions in Venezuela have soared since Guaido, who heads the national legislature, invoked the constitution to declare himself acting president on January 23, claiming Maduro’s re-election last year was illegitimate.
The country has suffered five years of recession marked by shortages of basic necessities as well as failing public services, including water, electricity and transport.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned Venezuela’s authorities not to use deadly force against demonstrators, while the US and Russia accused each other of making the crisis worse, evoking their Cold War-era confrontations.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are to discuss Venezuela when they meet in Finland next week, a US official said.
“We’re going to remain in the streets until we achieve freedom for the Venezuelan people,” Guaido told his supporters in Caracas on Wednesday.
Pro-Maduro groups also marched through the capital on May Day.
The International Contact Group of 13 countries — including Britain, France, Germany and Maduro’s ally Bolivia — announced a meeting in Costa Rica on Monday and Tuesday to discuss the latest flare-up in Venezuela’s simmering crisis.