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Thousands pack Venezuelan capital to demand Maduro steps down

Thousands pack Venezuelan capital to demand Maduro steps down

Venezuelan Air Force High Command General Francisco Yanez published a video social media of himself recognizing self-declared Venezuelan acting president Juan Guaido and disavowing socialist leader Nicolas Maduro A high-ranking Venezuelan air force general called on the armed forces to rebel against President Nicolas Maduro and recognize the opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim

Venezuelan Air Force High Command General Francisco Yanez published a video social media  of himself recognizing self-declared Venezuelan acting president Juan Guaido and disavowing socialist leader Nicolas Maduro

Venezuelan Air Force High Command General Francisco Yanez published a video social media  of himself recognizing self-declared Venezuelan acting president Juan Guaido and disavowing socialist leader Nicolas Maduro

Venezuelan Air Force High Command General Francisco Yanez published a video social media of himself recognizing self-declared Venezuelan acting president Juan Guaido and disavowing socialist leader Nicolas Maduro

A high-ranking Venezuelan air force general called on the armed forces to rebel against President Nicolas Maduro and recognize the opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim chief as huge crowds rallied against the head of state in the capital Caracas.  

Military support is crucial for the embattled Maduro, who is deeply unpopular largely due to an unprecedented economic crisis that has prompted an exodus of millions. 

As pressure mounts on Maduro to step down, the President still refuses to cede control of the South American republic, claiming he is victim of a coup directed by the United States.

Underscoring the high stakes, General Francisco Yanez of the air force’s high command announced Saturday he rejected Maduro’s ‘dictatorial’ authority and pledged his allegiance to Guaido, in a video posted on social media.

‘People of Venezuela, 90 percent of the armed forces of Venezuela are not with the dictator, they are with the people of Venezuela,’ Yanez said in the video circulating on Twitter.

‘Given the happenings of the last few hours, already the transition to democracy is imminent.’

On its own Twitter account, the air force’s high command accused the general of treason.

His defection came as Pro-Maduro forces were also rallying in the western side of the city to mark the 20th anniversary of the presidential inauguration of the late Hugo Chavez, the leftist firebrand who installed a socialist government. 

Hundreds of members of a civilian militia, public workers and people who have benefitted from the government’s social programs began to concentrate in the downtown Avenida Bolivar in a show of support for their beleaguered leader.

The rally was attended by Maduro, Chavez’s handpicked successor, in what was his first public appearance since August 4, when he claimed to have been the target of an exploding drone at a military parade in Caracas. 

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivers a speech during a gathering with supporters to mark the 20th anniversary of the rise of power of the late Hugo Chavez

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivers a speech during a gathering with supporters to mark the 20th anniversary of the rise of power of the late Hugo Chavez

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivers a speech during a gathering with supporters to mark the 20th anniversary of the rise of power of the late Hugo Chavez

‘Today is the anniversary of 20 years of work, fight, advances and important achievements, despite the difficulties and imperial conspiracies,’ Maudro said on twitter. ‘Congratulations to all.’      

Meanwhile tens of thousands of opposition supporters, many sporting clothes in the yellow, blue and red colors of the Venezuelan flag, turned out at rallies nationwide to protest against Maduro and show support for Guaido.

Guaido argues that Maduro’s re-election last year was rife with fraud, and he has invoked two articles of Venezuela’s constitution which he argues give him the right to assume presidential powers. 

The U.S., along with many Canada, the U.K. and numerous Latin American nations, has recognized Guaido as the legitimate president. Maduro is backed by allies Russia, China, Iran and Syria. 

This week Washington imposed potentially crippling sanctions that are likely to further weaken the OPEC nation’s struggling oil industry.

Thousands gather for the rally of United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in support of President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela on February 02, 2019

Thousands gather for the rally of United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in support of President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela on February 02, 2019

Thousands gather for the rally of United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in support of President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela on February 02, 2019

'Today is the anniversary of 20 years of work, fight, advances and important achievements, despite the difficulties and imperial conspiracies,' Maudro said on twitter. 'Congratulations to all'

'Today is the anniversary of 20 years of work, fight, advances and important achievements, despite the difficulties and imperial conspiracies,' Maudro said on twitter. 'Congratulations to all'

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro attends a rally in support of the government and to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the arrival to the presidency of the late President Hugo Chavez in Caracas

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro attends a rally in support of the government and to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the arrival to the presidency of the late President Hugo Chavez in Caracas

President Maduro, Chavez’s handpicked successor, attended a rally in what was his first public appearance since August 4, when he claimed to have been the target of an exploding drone at a military parade in Caracas

While small rebellions against Maduro have broken out in Venezuela’s armed forces in recent months, there has been no large scale military uprising against him. 

Yanez is the first active Venezuelan general to recognize Guaido since he proclaimed himself president on January 23. But Venezuela’s chief military attache to the United States also said he was defecting last week.

Canada and several Latin American nations have already officially recognized Guiado. Some European Union member states are expected to officially recognize Guaido next week, while others will likely take a more cautious stance of support.

‘We are going to send a very clear message in all the municipalities of Venezuela and in each city of the world, we are going to give a demonstration of strength, in a pacific and organized manner,’ Guaido tweeted on Saturday.  

Hard-working Venezuelans poured onto the streets to demand the end of Maduro’s six-year rule. 

Teachers, civil servants, businessmen, students, shop-workers, waitresses and housewives gathered across the capital, Caracas, to take part in the country’s biggest ever demonstration calling for him to quit.

Opposition activists pour into the streets to back Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido's calls for early elections, in Caracas on Saturday

Opposition activists pour into the streets to back Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido's calls for early elections, in Caracas on Saturday

Opposition activists pour into the streets to back Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido’s calls for early elections, in Caracas on Saturday

Civil servant Eduardo Lugo, 58, told MailOnline: ‘We have come out into the street to liberate our country. We want to bring hope back to Venezuela

Civil servant Eduardo Lugo, 58, told MailOnline: ‘We have come out into the street to liberate our country. We want to bring hope back to Venezuela

Civil servant Eduardo Lugo, 58, told MailOnline: ‘We have come out into the street to liberate our country. We want to bring hope back to Venezuela

The demonstrators – from all social classes – were answering Guaido’s summons to ‘take to the streets’, demanding fresh elections, as well as food and medical supplies for the millions suffering in the crippling economic crisis.

Carrying Venezuelan flags and blowing horns and whistles, Guaido’s supporters planned to converge on the European Union headquarters in eastern Caracas from five staging areas around the city. 

The EU and major European powers have given Maduro until Sunday to call ‘free elections’ or they will recognize Guaido, who is head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, as the country’s acting president. 

Civil servant Eduardo Lugo, 58, told MailOnline: ‘We have come out into the street to liberate our country. We want to bring hope back to Venezuela.

An anti-government protester wears signs asking for humanitarian aid and a message on his chest that reads in Spanish: 'Venezuelans die for lack of medicines. Maduro is an assassin'

An anti-government protester wears signs asking for humanitarian aid and a message on his chest that reads in Spanish: 'Venezuelans die for lack of medicines. Maduro is an assassin'

An anti-government protester wears signs asking for humanitarian aid and a message on his chest that reads in Spanish: ‘Venezuelans die for lack of medicines. Maduro is an assassin’

‘The country is in a terrible mess. We are suffering. There is no food, we have hyper-inflation, there is no democracy. We want to be free.’

His partner Carmen Romero, 50, added: ‘We need change.’  

Mireanna Fernandez, a 20-year-old student at a protest in the eastern city of Ciudad Guayana, said before Guaido’s proclamation she wanted to leave Venezuela, but now she had hope that Maduro’s government would end.

‘I have no quality of life, I can’t go out onto the streets, my university is falling apart, they’ve closed classrooms, there are no teachers,’ she said. ‘It’s time they leave.’

Adrianna Garcia, 27, told how despite holding down two jobs she can’t make ends meet: ‘The country has become a dictatorship. We want the country to get back on its feet.

‘I have two jobs but I still do not have enough money to buy the everyday things I need.

‘I want to have a proper job and for my country to have a future. For that we need a new president, a fresh start.’  

Cosmetics company worker Mariel Armas, 52, told how she has to choose between buying food and clothes or other commodities.

‘Every day I have to make a choice about how I am going to spend the little money I earn,’ she told MailOnline.

‘I can either buy food or I can buy clothes. I cannot buy both. I just want Venezuela to go back to how it used to be before this dictatorship. We used to be a rich country. There used to be well-paid jobs. I want [President] Maduro to go and for there to be a transitional government.’

Retired teacher Maria da Silva, 61, told how she could not afford to replace her broken shoes.

Opposition supporters take part in a rally against Maduro in Caracas as they stand on fencing to get a better view over the sea of people

Opposition supporters take part in a rally against Maduro in Caracas as they stand on fencing to get a better view over the sea of people

Opposition supporters take part in a rally against Maduro in Caracas as they stand on fencing to get a better view over the sea of people

‘I have worked for 38 years as a teacher, half of the people here today are my former students.

‘Now I can barely afford to live. I cannot afford to buy meat, it’s just too expensive. If I buy eggs with my pension I cannot buy anything else.

‘My shoes are broken but I cannot afford to buy new ones.’ 

Businessman Jesus Camacaro, 41, said Venezuela was on the brink of change.

‘We are close to the end,’ he said. ‘Maduro has ruined the country we need a new government with Juan Guaido leading us out of this mess.

‘Guaido has the support of the people and the support of the international community.’

Unemployed factory worker Iraima Perez, told how Venezuela’s socialist regime had ruined the country.

‘We have had 20 years of this regime and it has ruined the country. The state took over the company I worked for and I lost my job.

‘The government is shooting innocent people dead for nothing.

‘We just want a better future.’

Businessman Douglas Ascanio, 65, said the people were putting their faith in opposition leader Juan Guaido.

‘We want Juan Guaido to be president,’ he told MailOnline. ‘We have had enough of this socialist regime. [President] Maduro and his chronies have ruined the country. We want a real democracy and freedom for all.’

Student Gregory Sanabria had travelled for 12 hours on a bus from his home in the Andes to take part in the 2nd February march [#2F].

The 24-year-old from Merida said: ‘I was sent to prison and labelled a terrorist because I took part in an opposition protest.

‘But now it is time for change. It is time for free elections and a new government.’

Venezuelan MP Renzo Prieto said President Maduro deserved to be sent to jail for the chaos and corruption he had brought to Venezuela.

But the 31-year-old politician said that he would let the embattled leader flee abroad if this would stop the bloodshed.

A participant in the Venezuelan national colours shows the words 'I am Free', written on his palms as opposition supporters in Venezuela get ready for a demonstration against the Nicolas Maduro's Government

A participant in the Venezuelan national colours shows the words 'I am Free', written on his palms as opposition supporters in Venezuela get ready for a demonstration against the Nicolas Maduro's Government

A participant in the Venezuelan national colours shows the words ‘I am Free’, written on his palms as opposition supporters in Venezuela get ready for a demonstration against the Nicolas Maduro’s Government

An overwhelming sight for democracies around the world who this month gave their support to Guaido, with many of the world's biggest players recognising him as the leader already

An overwhelming sight for democracies around the world who this month gave their support to Guaido, with many of the world's biggest players recognising him as the leader already

An overwhelming sight for democracies around the world who this month gave their support to Guaido, with many of the world’s biggest players recognising him as the leader already

A Venezuelan woman shouts slogans as she takes part in a rally in Catalonia square, in Barcelona, Spain as countries around the world condemn the actions of President Nicolas Maduro

A Venezuelan woman shouts slogans as she takes part in a rally in Catalonia square, in Barcelona, Spain as countries around the world condemn the actions of President Nicolas Maduro

A Venezuelan woman shouts slogans as she takes part in a rally in Catalonia square, in Barcelona, Spain as countries around the world condemn the actions of President Nicolas Maduro

The streets of Caracas were filled with Venzuelans of every class, from every type of profession to call for an end to the socialist tyranny of Maduro

The streets of Caracas were filled with Venzuelans of every class, from every type of profession to call for an end to the socialist tyranny of Maduro

The streets of Caracas were filled with Venzuelans of every class, from every type of profession to call for an end to the socialist tyranny of Maduro

‘Venezuela needs a new start, a new government, a brighter future.’

Housewife Julia de las Salas, 48, came to the march with her daughter Lisandry Graterol, 21.

She told MailOnline: ‘We are here today to fight for freedom. I want a better future for my daughter and my family.’ 

Supporters of the ‘chavismo’ movement founded by Chavez gathered in Caracas’ Bolivar avenue for the government rally on Saturday morning.

‘For us Venezuelans, there is only one president – President Nicolas Maduro,’ said Gregory Carrasquel, 35. ‘The other is someone who is being led to carry out a coup.’

‘(U.S. President Donald) Trump is imposing measures because he is the dictator of the world and thinks we are his slaves.’

Washington has imposed sweeping sanctions on state-owned oil firm PDVSA in the toughest financial challenge yet to Maduro, as the Trump administration openly seeks to push him from power.

Venezuela is suffering from hyperinflation, produce shortages and a mass migration of citizens to neighboring Latin American countries – a situation likely to be worsened in the short term by the new sanctions.

Guaido swore himself in as interim president in a direct challenge to Maduro’s rule, but still has no control over state institutions or any functions of day-to-day governance.

Maduro’s adversaries say he has run roughshod over democratic institutions, including the opposition-run congress, and destroyed the once-buoyant economy through a corruption-riddled exchange control system and arbitrary nationalizations.

Tens of thousands of protesters line the streets of Caracas today, many wearing the yellow, blue and red colours of their flag

Tens of thousands of protesters line the streets of Caracas today, many wearing the yellow, blue and red colours of their flag

Tens of thousands of protesters line the streets of Caracas today, many wearing the yellow, blue and red colours of their flag

An anti-government protester holds a poster with a message that reads in Spanish: 'Freedom for Venezuela' in Caracas

An anti-government protester holds a poster with a message that reads in Spanish: 'Freedom for Venezuela' in Caracas

An anti-government protester holds a poster with a message that reads in Spanish: ‘Freedom for Venezuela’ in Caracas

A protester holds a sign in English which says: 'God Guaido Almagro and the world to Venezuela, thanks!' And then in Spanish 'Forza Ragazzi!' - which means 'Come on Guys!'

A protester holds a sign in English which says: 'God Guaido Almagro and the world to Venezuela, thanks!' And then in Spanish 'Forza Ragazzi!' - which means 'Come on Guys!'

A protester holds a sign in English which says: ‘God Guaido Almagro and the world to Venezuela, thanks!’ And then in Spanish ‘Forza Ragazzi!’ – which means ‘Come on Guys!’

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