Venezuela air force general defects from regime and backs opposition leader

Defiant Nicolas Maduro gestures during a meeting with soldiers in Caracas yesterday

Defiant Nicolas Maduro gestures during a meeting with soldiers in Caracas yesterday

The dueling demonstrations will play out amid a political standoff in its second week of heightened tensions - and with the potential to spark violent clashes between the opposition and security forces.

And he called on Guaido for "face to face" talks, which the younger man has already rejected.

Tension rose when Guaido declared himself acting president January 23.

Guaido's claim to the Venezuelan presidency has been backed by protests in which at least 35 people have been killed and more than 900 have been arrested, according to human rights groups. "We are going to have parliamentary elections", Maduro told a pro-government rally in Caracas, held to commemorate the 20th anniversary of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez's first inauguration as president.

Guaido has won backing from the United States and a dozen Latin American countries to take over the leadership, but Russian Federation and China continue to support Maduro.

In a YouTube video, Yanez said: "The transition to democracy is imminent".

Asked if US military intervention was imminent - or by Brazil or Colombia or a combination of all three nations - Trump adviser John Bolton told the Hugh Hewitt radio show: "No".

"We, the Venezuelans, stand by the United States' side and are waiting for you", he said.

"Pursuant to the request of Interim President Juan Guaido, and in consultation with his officials the United States will mobilize and transport humanitarian aid-medicine, surgical supplies, and nutritional supplements for the people of Venezuela".

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Earlier Sunday, Maduro addressed troops on military exercises in Venezuela's coastal northeast, calling on them for "maximum cohesion" a day after a top Air Force general publicly sided with Guaido.

The opposition "want to deliver the country in pieces to the gringo empire and the local oligarchies", Maduro told the soldiers.

Turkey, Russia and China opposed the US call to support Guaido and condemned any global interference in Venezuela's internal affairs. Though this might serve as an excuse for the oft-threatened United States intervention, it would likely be disastrous for Venezuela's already struggling economy.

The military's support is crucial for Maduro, who is deeply unpopular, largely due to an unprecedented economic crisis that has prompted an exodus of millions.

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". "The time has come to end the Maduro dictatorship once and for all".

"They want to bring forward elections, let's have elections", he said. He is urging Venezuelans to take to the streets again Saturday for a mass protest demanding that humanitarian aid enter the country, something the Maduro government has regularly refused, denying that a crisis is underway.

"We've been imposing economic sanctions, increasing political pressure from around the world", he said.

The EU was nervous at the precedent of a self-declaration and has been reluctant to follow the USA and most Latin American nations with immediate recognition of Guaido.

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