CARACAS • Clashes between anti-government protesters and law enforcement officers erupted in Caracas yesterday after Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido appeared alongside soldiers at a military base and called for the population to rise up against President Nicolas Maduro.
While Mr Guaido has exhorted the Venezuelan military to join his side since he declared himself interim president more than three months ago, it was a new step for him to make the declaration with men in uniform by his side.
Still, it was unclear how much of the military supports him.
Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza denied there was a military coup under way to oust Mr Maduro and accused Mr Guaido of operating under orders from Washington.
"It is not a coup attempt from the military. This is directly planned in Washington, in the Pentagon and Department of State, and by (National Security Adviser John) Bolton," Mr Arreaza told Reuters in a phone interview. "They are leading this coup and giving orders to this man (Juan) Guaido," he said, adding that Mr Maduro was still in full control of the country with the backing of the military.
The Trump administration, which has backed Mr Guaido since he first declared himself interim president in January, expressed immediate support for his latest move.
"Estamos con ustedes! We are with you!" US Vice-President Mike Pence said in a Twitter post.
TV images showed Venezuelan security forces using an armoured vehicle to ram demonstrators during rioting outside the army base in Caracas.
The incident left several people injured on the ground who were helped up by other demonstrators.
It happened as security forces tried to break up rioting outside the La Carlota airbase, where Mr Guaido earlier called on troops inside to join efforts to oust President Maduro.
"The call we are now making to our people is to stay in the streets in this quest of freedom and for our armed forces to continue to join," Mr Carlos Vecchio, whom the United States recognises as Venezuela's ambassador, told reporters in Washington.
Mr Maduro insisted in a Twitter post that the military was on his side, saying commanders had assured him of "their total loyalty to the people, to the Constitution and to the fatherland".
NYTIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE