Venezuelan soldiers call for coup against Maduro before being arrested

Video AP

Video AP

Pence's message supported the political opposition to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his hard-left government.

"The Maduro government has relied on the dissemination of misinformation alongside tight control of communication flows to maintain its grip on power", said Verónica Arroyo, Latin America Policy Associate at Access Now."This attack on Venezuelans' freedom of expression is emblematic of the attack on democracy itself".

The vice president says the USA joins other "freedom-loving" nations in recognizing the popularly elected National Assembly as the "last vestige of democracy" in Venezuela. But buoyed by unprecedented global criticism of Maduro, anti-government forces have put aside their differences and are projecting a united front.

Venezuela's crisis quickly escalated Wednesday as an opposition leader backed by the Trump administration declared himself interim president in a direct challenge to embattled socialist Nicolas Maduro, who retaliated by breaking off relations with the United States, his biggest trade partner.

Their leader this time, taking the reins from a long list of better-known predecessors who have been exiled, outlawed or jailed, is Juan Guaido, the new president of the National Assembly who was dragged from an SUV just over a week ago by intelligence agents but quickly released amid an global outcry.

The soldiers rose up during the early hours of Monday morning at a National Guard command post in Cotiza, north of Caracas, which was later surrounded by police and troops.

Minister of Communication Jorge Rodriguez said at a Tuesday news conference that investigators recovered most of the 51 stolen weapons.

Venezuela on Tuesday slammed U.S. Vice President Mike Pence for supporting the country's opposition.

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Venezuelan opposition sympathizers had been urging Guaido to assume the presidency since Maduro was inaugurated to a second term on January 10 following a widely boycotted election a year ago that the United States and many other foreign governments described as a fraudulent. Troops fired tear gas to disperse them.

Wednesday's planned marches come weeks after Maduro began his second term in power as the country faces a deep economic crisis and dozens of countries dispute the legitimacy of his presidency.

The protests have been called to coincide with a historic date for Venezuelans - the anniversary of the 1958 coup that overthrew military dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez.

The government said the officers took two vehicles from a police station in the western Macarao district before driving across the city to a barracks in the eastern Petare slum, where they stole an arms cache and kidnapped four officials. The pro-government Supreme Court, which annulled the powers of the congress in 2017, ruled on Tuesday to not recognise Guaido as its head and asked the state prosecutor's office to determine whether he had committed a crime.

"We want it to stand as one man on the side of the people, the constitution, and against the usurpation", he said on Twitter.

Supreme Court president Juan Jose Mendoza read a statement to the press declaring that the legislature "does not have a legitimate board of directors".

Maduro won highly controversial elections in May that were boycotted by the opposition and dismissed as a fraud by the European Union, United States and Organization of American States.

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