Venezuela Political Crisis

Maduro defies self-named 'president'

Cuts diplomatic ties with US
A woman holds a sign as she gathers in support of Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido outside the Embassy of Venezuela in Mexico City, Mexico on January 23, 2019. The sign reads, "Maduro usurper". Photo: Reuters

Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro yesterday prepared to rally his military supporters as the US and key allies backed a challenge from his leading rival who declared himself "acting president."

The announcement by Juan Guaido, 35, head of Venezuela's opposition-led legislature, came amid a fresh wave of deadly street clashes on Wednesday.

He declared himself acting leader of the oil-rich nation, which has lurched into economic chaos and violence under Maduro, 56.

The Socialist government responded by warning that the top military leadership would come out "in support of the constitutional president", Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said.

He added the military would show "backing for the sovereignty" of Venezuela.

That was a warning shot to Maduro's foreign critics as they rallied behind Guaido.

Opposition supporters take part in a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government and to commemorate the 61st anniversary of the end of the dictatorship of Marcos Perez Jimenez in Caracas, Venezuela on January 23, 2019. Photo: Reuters

US President Donald Trump declared Maduro "illegitimate" and called the National Assembly legislature "the only legitimate branch of government."

A furious Maduro responded to the US move by breaking off diplomatic ties with the "imperialist" US government, giving its diplomats 72 hours to leave.

The US State Department said it did not recognise Maduro as president anymore so his order meant nothing.

France added its support for Guaido, also branding Maduro "illegitimate" and calling for "the restoration of democracy" in Venezuela.

Maduro's key ally Russia meanwhile denounced Guaido's bid as a "usurpation" of power and condemned what it called foreign "interference" in Venezuela.

"This is a direct path to lawlessness and bloodshed," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Maduro's key financial backer China also weighed. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China opposes "interference" in Venezuelan affairs and called for a "political resolution."