Venezuela's Maduro proposes early elections as rival protests rock Caracas

A Boeing freight jet owned by the Russian airline Yerofei

A Boeing freight jet owned by the Russian airline

In the video, Gen. Francisco Yanez, a member of the air force's high command, calls on other members of the military to defect.

He told officials: "Do not cross the red line".

He says most of the Venezuelan crude oil it buys goes to its Pascagoula refinery in Mississippi.

"Historically, what dictators do when they believe they are about to lose power, or worry about it, they basically take everything they can carry and they spirit it out of the country to some safe place", said R. Evan Ellis, a Latin America expert at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute. The proclamation came after the opposition-controlled National Assembly declared President Nicolas Maduro's second-term "illegitimate".

Opposition leader Juan Guaido has proclaimed himself interim president of Venezuela and called for demonstrations to increase pressure on Maduro to resign.

And four major European powers - Britain, France, Germany and Spain - have said they will do so if Maduro fails to call presidential elections by midnight on Sunday.

In a letter to the presidents of Mexico and Uruguay published last Friday, Mr Guaido ruled out any negotiations with Mr Maduro unless they "start the transition process, culminating in the holding of free elections". "Russia is not going to bleed for Venezuelan oil".

But the Argentine-born pontiff said a few days earlier that although he is terrified there could be a bloodbath in Venezuela, his pastoral role doesn't let him take sides.

The military's support is crucial for the embattled Maduro, who is deeply unpopular largely due to an unprecedented economic crisis that has prompted an exodus of millions, but claims he is victim of a coup directed by the United States.

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"Maduro's tyranny must end and must end now", US Vice President Mike Pence told a rally of exiled Venezuelans in Miami on the eve of the protest.

The opposition and a large segment of the global community consider Maduro's reelection fraudulent, in part because the president's most popular adversaries were barred from running.

Still, Maduro is clinging to power, and intimidating the opposition while he's at it. Sen.

On Thursday, Marco Rubio, the Florida senator who has helped spearhead the U.S.'s hard-line stance toward the Maduro regime, fired off a tweet calling out the United Arab Emirates' Noor Capital as the financial firm orchestrating the gold transaction with Venezuelan authorities.

Guaido indicated that there would be no dialogue with Maduro or anyone in his government.

The general's defection signals a shifting view towards the socialist government that is struggling to maintain support among the people amid economic hardship and repression of social liberties and instead have to rely on brute force to assert its legitimacy.

Guaido reappeared Thursday night to address dozens of neighbors and thank them for not letting state security forces intimidate the community.

Asked by CNN's Christiane Amanpour whether he would accept U.S. military support, he said through an interpreter: "Here in Venezuela we are doing everything we can to put pressure, so that we don't have to come to a scenario that no one would wish to have".

"The use of sanctions by outside powers to overthrow an elected government is in violation of all norms of global law", he said in a statement in Geneva.

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