Venezuela: US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido proclaims himself interim President

Venezuela: US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido proclaims himself interim President
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó has taken an oath and sworn himself in as interim president, as droves of protesters take to the streets calling for President Nicolas Maduro’s exit.

Guaidó is currently President of the National Assembly, an elected legislature whose acts were declared null and void by Venezuela’s Supreme Court on Monday. The National Assembly had refused to recognize the authority of President Nicolas Maduro, declaring his election victory last year illegitimate.

Guaidó took the oath of office in front of a crowd of supporters in Caracas on Wednesday, as thousands of Venezuelans thronged the city’s streets to protest Maduro. He urged the country’s armed forces to support new elections, and pledged to perform the duties of president in the interim.

Moment after the news broke, US President Donald Trump said he recognizes Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president, and encouraged other western powers to follow suit.

READ MORE: Trump recognizes US-backed head of Venezuela’s opposition Juan Guaido as country’s interim president

“The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” Trump said in a statement. “We continue to hold the illegitimate Maduro regime directly responsible for any threats it may pose to the safety of the Venezuelan people.”

Ahead of Wednesday’s protests, US Vice President Mike Pence released a video message reiterating the US’ commitment to regime change in Venezuela. Denouncing Maduro as “a dictator with no legitimate claim to power” who has “never won the presidency in a free and fair election,” Pence vowed that the US “will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles.”

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Pence’s tacit endorsement of regime change prompted Maduro to order a “total revision” of the already-strained diplomatic ties between the two countries. “Mr. Pence doesn't have a job. Now he wants to come and run Venezuela, handing out instructions on what should happen” he told supporters, before accusing the US of “promoting instability and violence” in Venezuela.

The latest protests began after a group of National Guard soldiers staged a mutiny in northern Caracas on Monday morning and called on other military units to do the same. The rebellious servicemen were arrested, but civil unrest spread through the city in the following days. Four people have reportedly died during the protests.

Demonstrators torched statues of Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor and mentor, who steered the country towards socialism after winning election in 1999. In the city of San Félix, the anti-government crowd hung another statue of Chaves from an overpass.

Guaidó’s oath, and Trump’s recognition of him as president, comes on a symbolic day for Venezuela’s socialist government. The 23rd of January marks the anniversary of the 1958 coup d’etat that overthrew dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez. As protesters took to the streets with their own calls for democracy, the Venezuelan leader took to Twitter to celebrate the occasion.

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