Guaido calls for new anti-Maduro protests

CARACAS (AFP) – Venezuela’s self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido called on Sunday for two new protests, in an effort to push the military to turn against leader Nicolas Maduro and back a European ultimatum demanding free elections within the week.

In a video posted on Twitter, the head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly said the first of the nationwide strikes, tomorrow from noon to 2pm, would be one “to demand that the armed forces side with the people.”

The second, on Saturday, will be a “big national and international rally to back the support of the European Union (EU) and the ultimatum” from Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands that they would recognise Guaido as interim president unless Maduro calls elections by February 3.

The EU was more vague, saying it would take “further actions” if elections were not called in the coming days, including the issue of recognition of the country’s “leadership.”

Australia, meanwhile, said it “recognizes and supports” Guaido as interim president pending elections. And Italy has called for “a rapid return to democratic legitimacy.”

The United States (US) separately warned there would be a “significant response” if US diplomats, Guaido or the opposition-controlled National Assembly were targeted with violence and intimidation.

Maduro so far has not budged from his position, telling CNN Turk: “No one can give us an ultimatum.”

Nearly 30 people have been killed and more than 350 arrested in clashes with security forces over the past week.

Encouraged by the international support for his cause, Guaido is on a mission to weaken the military’s support of Maduro, which has been essential to keeping him in power since 2013.