Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 20 October 2019

Venezuelans take to streets as uprising attempt sputters

Security forces showed no sign of answering his cry for a widespread military ousting of Nicolas Maduro

Flames and smoke rise from an armored vehicle during clashes between protesters and members of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces after an attempted military uprising on Francisco Fajardo Highway in Altamira, Caracas, Venezuela, on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. One day after an attempt to spark a military uprising fell flat, Venezuela's opposition was at it again Wednesday, making another desperate effort to rally residents to oust President Nicolas Maduro. Photographer: Carlos Becerra/Bloomberg
Flames and smoke rise from an armored vehicle during clashes between protesters and members of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces after an attempted military uprising on Francisco Fajardo Highway in Altamira, Caracas, Venezuela, on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. One day after an attempt to spark a military uprising fell flat, Venezuela's opposition was at it again Wednesday, making another desperate effort to rally residents to oust President Nicolas Maduro. Photographer: Carlos Becerra/Bloomberg

Venezuelans heeded opposition leader Juan Guaido's call to fill streets around the nation on Wednesday but security forces showed no sign of answering his cry for a widespread military uprising, instead dispersing crowds with tear gas as the political crisis threatened to deepen.

Thousands cheered Mr Guaido in Caracas as he rolled up his sleeves and called on Venezuelans to remain out in force and prepare for a general strike, a day after his bold attempt to spark a mass military defection against President Nicolas Maduro failed to tilt the balance of power.

"It's totally clear now the usurper has lost," Mr Guaido proclaimed, a declaration belied by events on the ground.

Across town at the Carlota air base near where Mr Guaido made his plea a day earlier for a revolt, intense clashes raged against between protesters and troops loyal to Mr Maduro, making clear the standoff would drag on. There and elsewhere, state security forces launched tear gas and fired rubber bullets while bands of mostly young men armed with makeshift shields threw rocks and set a motorcycle ablaze.

"I don't want to say it was a disaster, but it wasn't a success," said Marilina Carillo, who was standing in a crowd of anti-government protesters blowing horns and whistles.

Opposition leaders hoped Mr Guaido's risky move would stir a string of high-ranking defections and shake Mr Maduro's grip on power. But only the chief of Venezuela's feared intelligence agency broke ranks, while most others stood steadfast. Some analysts predicted that would make Mr Maduro more emboldened.

The dramatic events could spell even more uncertainty for Venezuela, which has been rocked by three months of political upheaval since Mr Guaido re-energised a flagging opposition movement by declaring himself interim president, saying Mr Maduro had usurped power.

Now the struggle has heightened geopolitical dimensions, with the United States and more than 50 other nations backing Mr Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate president and Mr Maduro allies like Russia lending the beleaguered president military and economic support.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Wednesday that Mr Maduro is surrounded by "scorpions in a bottle" and that key figures among his inner circle had been "outed" as dealing with the opposition.

The United States contends Mr Maduro had been ready to flee Tuesday, an airplane already on the tarmac, but was talked out of it by Russian advisers.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry, said such assertions were part of a "global information and psychological war against Venezuela and Caracas."

"There is no proof there was a Russian plane there," she said. "The U.S. is big on Venezuela and wants to bring this to an end but that cannot do that."

Updated: May 2, 2019 08:25 AM

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