Demonstrators clashed with police on the streets of the Venezuelan capital Tuesday, spurred by opposition leader Juan Guaido’s call on the military to rise up against President Nicolas Maduro — who said he had defeated an attempted coup.
An apparently carefully planned attempt by Guaido to demonstrate growing military support disintegrated into rioting as palls of black smoke rose over eastern Caracas.
Guaido had been immediately backed by the United States, where President Donald Trump said in a tweet Washington was standing behind the Venezuelan people and their “freedom.”
He rallied his supporters with an early morning video message that showed him — for the first time — with armed troops he said had heeded months of urging to join his campaign to oust Maduro.
The 35-year-old National Assembly leader was filmed outside the La Carlota air base, where he asked the armed forces inside to join him.
The video had the extra shock value of featuring key opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez at his side, saying soldiers had released him from years of house arrest.
Guaido claimed the move was the “beginning of the end” of Maduro’s regime, and there was “no turning back.”
But Maduro had called on his forces to show “nerves of steel” and troops in riot gear, backed by armored vehicles and water tankers, lined up against the demonstrators.
Several vehicles plowed into the crowd, injuring some of the protesters. Rioters later blocked the highway with a bus and set it on fire.
A plume of black smoke rose from an area near a helicopter hangar on the base, where demonstrators who briefly managed to enter were pushed back.
As United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to all sides to avoid violence, Venezuela’s army chief and defense minister, General Vladimir Padrino issued a stark warning of possible “bloodshed” — adding that he would hold the opposition responsible.
The US, meanwhile, called on the military to protect the people and support “legitimate institutions” including the opposition-controlled National Assembly.
Trump threatened a “full and complete embargo” and tougher sanctions against Cuba if it does not end military support for Venezuela.
Late Tuesday, the US Federal Aviation Administration issued a notice banning US airlines from flying below an altitude of 26,000 feet (7,000 meters) in Venezuelan airspace. It also said any operators currently in Venezuela should leave within 48 hours.
Pro- and anti-Maduro demonstrations were held outside the Venezuelan embassies in several Latin American and European capitals.
Internet observatory NetBlocks reported that “multiple internet services” were restricted in Venezuela following Guaido’s appeal.