US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a television interview on Wednesday that the United States was prepared to take military action to stem the ongoing turmoil in Venezuela. “Military action is possible. If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do,” Mr Pompeo said in an interview with Fox Business Network, but added that the United States would prefer a peaceful transition of power in Venezuela. Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido earlier called for a massive May Day protest to increase the pressure on President Nicolas Maduro after a day of violent clashes on the streets of the capital. Mr Guaido said Wednesday’s rally would be “the biggest in the history of Venezuela” as he presses his attempt to unseat the president. Members of the Bolivarian National Guard who joined Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido fire into the air to repel forces loyal to President Nicolas Maduro Credit: AFP “Across all of Venezuela, we will be in the streets,” said the National Assembly leader, recognized as interim president by more than 50 countries, as he repeated his call for the armed forces to join “Operation Freedom” to overthrow the socialist leader. Mr Maduro however remained defiant after Mr Guaido’s call on Tuesday for the military to rise up appeared to have largely failed. Following a day of clashes between demonstrators and police on the streets of Caracas, Mr Maduro on Tuesday evening said he had defeated an attempted coup. Mr Maduro, who is also due to lead a May Day rally in Caracas, declared victory over the uprising – congratulating the armed forces for having “defeated this small group that intended to spread violence through putschist skirmishes.” “This will not go unpunished,” Mr Maduro said in an address broadcast on television and radio. Maduro appears flanked by Venezuela’s Defence Minister and two top military commanders in a photo released on Tuesday by the Miraflores Press Office “(Prosecutors) will launch criminal prosecutions for the serious crimes that have been committed against the constitution, the rule of law and the right to peace.” Tensions in Venezuela have been ratcheted up to a critical level this year, after Mr Guaido announced on January 23 that he was the acting president under the constitution. He said Mr Maduro had been fraudulently re-elected last year. Mr Guaido had rallied his supporters with a video message early on Tuesday that showed him – for the first time – with armed troops who he said had heeded months of urging to join his campaign to oust Mr Maduro. He claimed the move was the “beginning of the end” of Mr Maduro’s regime, and there was “no turning back.” “We showed there are soldiers willing to defend the constitution, and there are many more,” Mr Guaido said in the video message. The 35-year-old opposition leader was filmed outside the La Carlota air base, where he asked the armed forces inside to join him. An opposition demonstrator walks near a bus in flames during clashes with soldiers loyal to Maduro Credit: AFP Mr Guaido had been immediately backed by the United States, where President Donald Trump said in a tweet on Tuesday that Washington was standing behind the Venezuelan people and their “freedom.” Thousands of opposition supporters flocked onto a highway near the air base, many waving Venezuelan flags, but they were met with gunfire and tear-gas fired by soldiers at the compound’s perimeter. Soldiers backing Mr Guaido wore blue armbands to demonstrate their allegiance to the opposition leader but there appeared to be few of them. Riots also erupted in several other cities across the country, with dozens injured and one death reported, according to human rights groups. Brazil said a number of Venezuelan troops had sought asylum at its Caracas embassy. Brazilian media put that number at 25. But Mr Maduro had called on his forces to show “nerves of steel” and troops in riot gear, backed by armored vehicles and water tankers, lined up against the demonstrators. Hours after the revolt by military officers appeared to be fizzling out, Mr Pompeo told CNN he believed Maduro was ready to flee to ally Cuba before he was dissuaded by Russia – a claim Mr Maduro later refuted as “a joke.” Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday calling the assertion part of an “information war”. Moscow has previously accused the United States of trying to foment a coup in Venezuela, a close Russian ally, and of trying to demoralise the army by spreading potentially morale-sapping fake news.
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