CARACAS • Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido faced a key test of support yesterday after calling for the "largest march" in Venezuela's history to try to dislodge President Nicolas Maduro, even as the military resisted calls to help remove him.
Mr Guaido on Tuesday urged the armed forces to support his effort to oust Mr Maduro and appeared outside an air force base with dozens of National Guard members.
But there were no concrete signs of defection from the armed forces leadership, despite a years-long deep economic crisis and support for Mr Guaido from the United States and other Western nations.
"Today we continue," Mr Guaido wrote in a post on Twitter early yesterday. "We will keep going with more strength than ever, Venezuela."
The size of the planned street protest in Caracas will provide a test for Mr Guaido, amid frustration among some supporters that Mr Maduro remains in office more than three months after the opposition leader - who heads the National Assembly - invoked the Constitution to assume an interim presidency, arguing that Mr Maduro's 2018 re-election was illegitimate.
While Mr Guaido earned the backing of the US and most Western countries, the armed forces have stood by Mr Maduro, who retains the support of allies like Russia, China and Cuba.
That has frustrated Mr Guaido's bid to assume the day-to-day functions of government on an interim basis - which he says would be a prelude to calling new elections.
Mr Maduro, a socialist, calls Mr Guaido a puppet of the US who is seeking to orchestrate a coup against him.
The size of the planned street protest in Caracas will provide a test for Mr Guaido, amid frustration among some supporters that Mr Maduro remains in office more than three months after the opposition leader invoked the Constitution to assume an interim presidency, arguing that Mr Maduro's 2018 re-election was illegitimate.
More than 100 people were injured in anti-Maduro protests on Tuesday. Tens of thousands of people marched in Caracas in support of Mr Guaido, clashing with riot police along the main Francisco Fajardo thoroughfare.
Russia yesterday denied a comment by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a day earlier that Mr Maduro was prepared to leave the country but nixed his plan after Russia intervened.
Mr Pompeo was scheduled to speak with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov yesterday about the political situation in Venezuela, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said.
Mr Bolton, a hawk on Venezuela, made clear that Moscow's interference was not welcome. "This is our hemisphere," he told reporters outside the White House. "It's not where the Russians ought to be interfering. This is a mistake on their part. It's not going to lead to an improvement of relations."
The White House National Security Council scheduled a meeting yesterday afternoon to discuss next steps on the political turmoil in Venezuela, and Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan cancelled a trip to Europe because of Venezuela.
In a television interview yesterday, Mr Pompeo said US military action was "possible" in Venezuela but that the Trump administration would prefer a peaceful transfer of power.
The US Federal Aviation Administration late on Tuesday banned US air operators from flying below 26,000 feet in Venezuela's airspace, citing political instability.
Mr Maduro also urged supporters to march yesterday.
"On the first of May, we will have a large, millions-strong march of the working class," Mr Maduro said in a television address on Tuesday. "We have been confronting different types of aggression and attempted coups never before seen in our history."
Elsewhere in Latin America, millions of Cubans took to the streets yesterday to protest against new sanctions imposed on the Caribbean island by the Trump administration and US efforts to topple the government of Venezuela.
The annual marches across the Communist-run country, marking International Workers' Day, provided the first opportunity to publicly protest against a US offensive opposing socialism in the region declared by Mr Bolton late last year.
Brazil's right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro said he had received information of fractures within the Venezuelan army that could lead to the "collapse" of Mr Maduro's government.
Opposition leader Guaido's choice of International Workers' Day for a major march comes as he is making appeals to union leaders and public workers, a traditional base of support for Mr Maduro and his predecessor and mentor, the late president Hugo Chavez.