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Venezuela: Protesters, National Guard clash in anti-government rallies

By
Clyde Hughes & Nicholas Sakelaris & Daniel Uria
Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guiado (L) and Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez (R), speak during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela on Tuesday. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez/EPA-EFE
Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guiado (L) and Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez (R), speak during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela on Tuesday. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez/EPA-EFE

May 1 (UPI) -- Venezuelan protestors clashed with government forces Wednesday, as President Nicolas Maduro dug in against what he calls an attempted coup, including repeated calls by opposition leader Juan Guaido for more insurgency in the streets of Caracas.

Riot police fired tear gas toward anti-government protestors during clashes near La Carlota military base while they were blocking a highway, CNN reported.

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Guaido, recognized by several nations as the nation's interim president, called for supporters to again rally on Wednesday in the Venezuelan capital -- a day after he declared the start of "Operation Liberty," which he called the beginning of the final phase of Maduro's rule.

"Over the expanse and length of Venezuela, we will be in the streets," Guaido said. "We will see you all in the streets. That is our territory."

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Addressing a crowd in Caracas, he also said he did not have the backing of enough military defectors to declare victory in the conflict after previously stating Maduro had lost the support of the armed forces.

"We have to insist that all the armed forces [show up] together. We are not asking for a confrontation. We are not asking for a confrontation among brothers, it's the opposite. We just want them to be on the side of the people," Guaido said.

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Maduro declared victory over what he termed an attempted military uprising. In a nationally televised address, a defiant Maduro blamed the United States for leading the charge to remove him.

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"We have been facing various forms of coup d'etat, due to the obsessive effort of the Venezuelan right, the Colombian oligarchy and the U.S. empire," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States is trying to help Venezuela avoid violence and would prefer a peaceful transition of government.

"The president has been crystal clear and incredibly consistent -- military action is possible -- if that's what's required, that's what the United States will do," Pompeo told Fox Business.

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U.S. President Donald Trump blames Cuba for propping up Maduro's regime and threatened a complete embargo and additional sanctions if its military doesn't "immediately stop operations in Venezuela."

Maduro denied reports that he planned to flee to Cuba but was talked out of it by Russian officials.

Pompeo said Maduro was only moments from abandoning Venezuela on Tuesday.

"We've watched throughout the day, it's been a long time since anyone's seen Maduro," Pompeo told CNN. "He had an airplane on the tarmac, he was ready to leave this morning, [and] as we understand it the Russians indicated he should stay."

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Pompeo had strong words for the Russians, too.

"As President [Trump] said -- they gotta go -- and the Russians need to have the cost for that race," Pompeo said. "We are focused on making sure we do what we can to make this malign activity, which is undermining Juan Guaido, who is the duly elected leader of Venezuela, and take these supports out from underneath [Maduro] so that he will depart the country."

Russia military spokeswoman Maria Zakharova blamed the United States for escalating tensions.

"Numerous political actors in Washington do not see the harmfulness of this path toward which they push this whole story," Zakharova said in a report by state-run news agency Tass. "It is strange, because it is obvious to everyone now. If Washington continues its meddling attempts in internal affairs, it may cause a collapse of the situation."

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