Venezuela prepares for massive anti-government marches

Venezuela protest - photo taken January 17, 2019
Posted at 10:14 AM, Jan 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-23 10:14:19-05

(CNN) -- Scores of people are expected to take to the streets of Venezuela on Wednesday in a revitalized effort against President Nicolas Maduro and his government.

The opposition-controlled National Assembly called for Wednesday's nationwide marches after accusing Maduro's government of "usurping power" and calling for new elections.

Maduro and his supporters plan to hold a parallel rally outside the Miraflores presidential palace.

The protests would take place on a highly symbolic date for Venezuelans. Wednesday marks the 61st anniversary of a civilian and military uprising that overthrew former Venezuelan dictator Gen. Marcos Perez Jimenez.

Some signs of unrest emerged earlier this week in Caracas. A small team of soldiers, claiming to be members of Venezuela's armed forces, attempted an uprising against Maduro and triggered violent street protests.

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.

US Vice President Mike Pence issued a message of support Tuesday to Venezuelans planning to join the marches.

"We are with you. We stand with you and we will stay with you until democracy is restored and you reclaim your birthright of libertad (freedom)," Pence said in a video posted on Twitter.

Pence said the United States maintains that Maduro "is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power" and reiterated the administration's policy in support of Juan Guaido, president of the National Assembly, and his efforts to declare Maduro's presidency illegitimate and establish a transitional government.

In response to Pence's comments, Maduro called for a "total, absolute revision" of Venezuela's diplomatic relations with the United States and said his government will take "political, diplomatic and defense decisions" in defense of the country's democracy.

"Never before has an official of the highest level come out in the name of his government, he spoke on behalf of the President of the United States, to say that in Venezuela, the opposition must overthrow the government," Maduro said in a televised message.

Other Venezuelan officials accused Pence of being behind an alleged military uprising in Caracas earlier in the week.

Wednesday's protests are expected to be the largest demonstration since 2017. Thousands of protesters clashed with security forces for months, accusing Maduro of imposing a dictatorship. More than 120 people were killed in protest-linked incidents during the unrest.

On Tuesday, a day before this week's planned demonstrations, the Venezuelan National Assembly advanced efforts for an amnesty policy for civilians and military officials who would rise up against Maduro's government.

On Monday, the Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled the National Assembly is illegitimate, and that no law discussed in the legislative body holds any legal value.

Maduro has continued the huge social welfare programs and price control policies of Hugo Chavez, who steered the country toward socialism before dying in 2013. Through nearly a decade of mismanagement, Venezuela squandered its profound oil wealth, leaving its economy in tatters and Latin America reeling from an unprecedented mass exodus of migrants in search of food and medicine.

The United Nations estimates as many as 3 million Venezuelans have fled since 2014.

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