Officials in Venezuela loyal to President Nicolas Maduro said the government was fighting back against an attempted "coup" after opposition leader, self-proclaimed President Juan Guaidó called for a popular uprising and claimed he had the support of the military.
In a video message posted to social media early Tuesday, Guaidó said the "final phase" of his plan to oust Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro had begun, and called on the nation's military to support him in his bid to end Maduro's presidency.
"Today, brave soldiers, brave patriots, brave men attached to the Constitution have followed our call," Guaidó said while flanked by a small group of soldiers and detained activist Leopoldo Lopez, Guaidó's political mentor.
"Today, we are counting on the people of Venezuela,” Guaidó said. “Today, the armed forces are clearly on the side of the people, they are on the side of the constitution.”
"The moment is now," Guaidó said in the three-minute video posted online.
Guaidó is the head of the Venezuelan National Assembly and has proclaimed himself the nation's interim president after a widely disputed election that many countries - including the United States - did not recognize as legitimate.
Thousands of Guaidó supporters have taken to the streets of Caracas, showing their support for the opposition leader.
"Today we are here, and we are going to stand firm here and we are asking the army and the military to join this political fight and the struggle for the Venezuelan people. We are going to stand here together asking and demanding the military to join this demonstration," Guaidó told demonstrators outside the Plaza Francia de Altamira in Caracas.
Meanwhile, Maduro supporters have gathered at a rally near the presidential palace where security forces have been deployed, the Associated Press reported. President Maduro wrote on Twitter that he had spoken with Venezuela's military leaders who had assured him "total loyalty" to the country and constitution. Maduro asked supporters and the military to gather at Miraflores Palace to help defend the government.
Support for Guaidó among U.S. officials is strong. Vice President Mike Pence tweeted Tuesday morning that "We are with you! America with stand with you until freedom & democracy are restored. Vayan con dio! #FreeVenezuela."
Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) has called on President Donald Trump to send the U.S. military to the region to help support Guaidó.
“President Trump should immediately position American military assets to be ready to deliver aid to the people and defend freedom and democracy as well as U.S. national security interests in our hemisphere," Scott said in a statement Friday. "Guaido and the people of Venezuela have taken this critical step. We cannot abandon them. Inaction is not an option."
Photo: Getty Images