The leader of Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly says he is prepared to take on the South American country’s presidency on an interim basis and call elections, only a day after socialist President Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a disputed second mandate, Trend reports citing Press TV.
Juan Guaido, 35, a legislator from the hard-line Popular Will opposition party and an arch foe of Maduro, made the remarks at an anti-government rally in front of the headquarters of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in the capital Caracas on Friday.
The rally was a rare and potentially destabilizing challenge to some 20 years of Bolivarian rule, as hundreds of his energized supporters were chanting “Guaido for president!” and “Out with Maduro!”
“I assume the duty imposed by the Constitution and Article 333, which obliges all Venezuelans, vested with authority or not, to fight for the restitution of constitutional order,” Guaido said, calling his strongly-worded speech as his “declaration to the Venezuelan people.”
He also branded Maduro, 56, as an illegitimate “usurper” and urged the pro-Maduro military to turn against the socialist leader, saying he would only take office with support of the armed forces.
“The Constitution gives me the legitimacy to exercise the charge of the presidency of the Republic to call elections, but I need the support of the citizens to make it happen,” Guaido further said before calling for massive protest rallies across the country on January 23, the anniversary of the fall of the 11-year-long military dictatorship led by Marcos Perez Jimenez in 1958.
“We are going to change things in Venezuela” he added.
Maduro’s allies were quick to slam Guaido. Prisons Minister Iris Varela appeared to threaten to put the National Assembly leader behind bars, although she has in the past threatened to imprison other opposition members who are still free. “Guaido, I already got your cell ready, with your uniform,” Varela wrote on Twitter.
Over the past 20 years, Venezuela’s opposition has made many failed attempts to oust the ruling socialists. Now, opposition leaders have disavowed Maduro’s second mandate as illegitimate, demanding the National Assembly to declare the presidency vacant.
Venezuela’s Congress has already denounced Maduro’s presidency as illegitimate, calling on the country’s pro-Maduro military to support efforts to “restore democracy” in the South American country.
Maduro was sworn in at the country's Supreme Court of Justice on Thursday to begin his second six-year term after he was re-elected in May following an early election called by the ruling Constituent Assembly. The vote faced claims of vote-rigging and irregularities as well as an opposition boycott.
Several of Venezuela’s Latin American neighbors as well as the European Union joined voices with Maduro’s opponents at the time and said they would not recognize the results of the election.
On Thursday, thousands of Maduro’s supporters convened for the ceremony in the capital Caracas, as Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, President of Bolivia Evo Morales and Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel also attended the heavily-guarded ceremony.
This comes as thousands of security forces, in full gear, were stationed in Caracas and other major cities, as opposition groups had called for pot-banging and the sounding of horns in protest during the ceremony.
Last week, foreign ministers from a bloc of 14 Latin American countries -- the so-called Lima Group -- announced after a meeting in the Peruvian capital Lima that their governments would not recognize Maduro as president if he attempted to remain in office, calling on the 56-year-old leader to hand over power to the National Assembly.
Earlier this week, Christian Zerpa, the Supreme Court judge and a long-time government loyalist, fled to the US in a declared protest at the president’s second term, arguing that the election “was not free and fair.” He also described Maduro as an incompetent leader who led the once-wealthy country to ruins.
A massive inflation rate and a growing shortage of basic commodities such as foodstuff and medicine have reportedly forced an estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans to leave the country since 2015.
The Maduro blames the economic crisis on the opposition and the US sanctions, saying Washington has imposed a full-scale economic war on the country to topple its government.
The opposition, however, says Maduro’s mismanagement is to blame.
Back in August, Maduro survived an assassination attempt during a military parade in Caracas. He was unharmed while seven Venezuelan soldiers sustained injuries in the incident. Maduro has accused the US and Colombia of being responsible for the attack.