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Thousands gather in Caracas to rally support for Interim Pres. Juan Guaido

Thousands gather in Caracas to rally support for Interim Pres. Juan Guaido

The officer confirmed in a phone call with The Associated Press, from a Colombian number, the veracity of his declaration and said he would not provide further statements until given authorization by "the commander-in-chief of the legal armed force, which is President Juan Guaido".

Military is a key pillar of support for the deeply unpopular Maduro.

Mr Maduro claims he is a victim of a coup directed by the United States.

He said the pro-government Constitutional Assembly is studying the possibility of early parliamentary elections "this very year".

On Saturday, both those opposed to and those in support of current President Nicolas Maduro took to the streets amid an escalating political crisis in the country.

"We don't just want you to stop shooting at protesters", Guaido said in a hoarse voice.

Saturday marked the anniversary of former president Hugo Chavez entering office, who served from 1999 to 2013.

In the east of the capital, self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido led an opposition rally demanding that Maduro resign and new presidential elections. Government supporters control the powerful Constituent Assembly.

The general also said that "90 percent" of the armed forces were against Maduro.

Yanez is the first active Venezuelan general to recognise Guaido since he proclaimed himself president on January 23.

The 35-year-old president of Venezuela's National Assembly outlined the opposition's recent moves and called on "blocks" of the military to defect from Maduro's administration and "get on the side of the Venezuelan people".

In a YouTube video, General Yanez described Maduro as a dictator and referred to Guaido as his president, but refused to say whether he is still in Venezuela or has left the country. "Already the transition to democracy is imminent".

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The high command's web page lists him, along with a photo, as the air force's head of strategic planning.

"We are preparing to defend the sacred motherland", he told supporters, "in case they one day dare to mess with our beloved Venezuela".

Speaking from behind a podium decorated with Venezuela's presidential seal, Guaido told cheering supporters he would keep his opposition movement in the streets until Maduro stopped "usurping" the country's presidency and agreed to organize a new presidential election overseen by worldwide observers.

In a possible sign of Maduro's weakening support, riot police who had planned on blocking demonstrators from reaching the rallies chose to let them pass in at least three cities, according to Guaido and Reuters witnesses.

Guaido explained that aid for Venezuela will include life-saving medicines that are scarce in Venezuela and will be transported by vehicles arriving at several border points, after it is shipped into "friendly ports" in neighboring countries.

Guaido has promised a transitional government and free elections to end the rule of the socialist Maduro regime, which has overseen the once-wealthy oil nation's descent into economic collapse and a humanitarian crisis. "It won't be an easy task".

However, he still has no control over the government's institutions or daily governance.

While many countries, including the United States and Brazil, have backed Guaido, China has so far declined to pick sides, stressing its longtime position against "interfering" in the domestic affairs of other nations.

Canada, the U.S., Australia, the EU Parliament and other Latin American countries have proclaimed their support for Guaido, while Russian Federation and China have put their support behind Maduro. Maduro still has the backing of Russian Federation and China.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters on Monday that by blocking PDVSA's assets, the Trump administration was taking care of the company "in the interests of the people" of Venezuela, and also protecting the oil market.

Speaking from behind a podium decorated with Venezuela's presidential seal, Guaido vowed to thousands of roaring supporters that he would keep his opposition movement in the streets until Maduro stopped "usurping" the country's presidency and agreed to organizing new presidential elections overseen by worldwide observers.