Maduro to revise US diplomatic ties after Pence backs protesters

Venezuela's Maduro accuses US of trying to force a coup after Mike Pence sends video message of support to opposition.

    Nicolas Maduro says he has ordered a "revision" of Venezuela's diplomatic relations with the United States, accusing Washington of trying to force a coup after US Vice President Mike Pence threw his weight behind attempts to get rid of the South American country's president. 

    Maduro said on Tuesday he would announce new measures in the next few hours, in comments that came shortly after Pence declared support for protesters and opposition leaders before widespread anti-government demonstrations planned for Wednesday.

    "On behalf of President Donald Trump and all the American people, let me express the unwavering support of the United States as you, the people of Venezuela, raise your voices in a call for freedom," Pence said in a taped video message in English with a few Spanish words and phrases mixed in.

    "Nicolas Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power. He has never won the presidency in a free and fair election, and has maintained his grip of power by imprisoning anyone who dares to oppose him."

    Venezuela's opposition on Wednesday plans to hold anti-Maduro demonstrations across the county as part of an annual event that marks the fall of a military government in 1958. Government supporters are also expected to take to the streets.

    In response to Pence's comments, Maduro told a press conference: "Never before has a high-level official said that the opposition should overthrow the government."

    Maduro was sworn in on January 10 for a controversial second six-year term following an election largely boycotted by the opposition and considered fraudulent by many within the international community.

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    Last week, the National Assembly, the opposition-controlled legislative body led by opposition figure Juan Guaido, declared Maduro a "usurper" and decided to push for a transitional government to be established.

    Guaido has said he would be ready to take over as president and hold fair elections if Venezuelans and the armed forces backed him. He has also called for opposition protests.

    On Monday, Venezuela's Supreme Court disavowed Guaido as the president of the National Assembly, rendered powerless by the top court after Maduro's ruling Socialist Party lost control of it in 2016.

    In his video message, Pence declared Washington's support again for Guaido, with whom he spoke to by phone earlier this month, and the National Assembly as the "last vestige of democracy".

    "As you make your voices heard tomorrow, on behalf of the American people, we say to all the good people of Venezuela: estamos con ustedes," Pence said, following up with the translation in English. "We are with you, we stand with you, and we will stay with you until democracy is restored and you reclaim your birthright of libertad."

    Caracas blames opposition

    The developments come against the backdrop of a crippling Venezuelan economy. Annual inflation is now over one million percent, with the price of food and medicines too high for most to obtain. Millions have fled since 2015, according to the United Nations.

    On Tuesday, the government said a group of military officers who stole weapons as part of a failed revolt the previous day had delivered the arms to opposition party Popular Will, which the party dismissed as "lies" and an attempt to divert blame.

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    Some two dozen officers on Monday attacked a National Guard outpost in Cotiza, a Caracas neighbourhood one kilometre from the presidential Miraflores palace, leading to opposition demonstrations in nearby parts of the capital.

    Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the officers involved stole 51 rifles but that authorities had only recovered 40. The officers were arrested after the incident.

    David Smolansky, a former exiled mayor of El Hatillo district in the capital, Caracas, claimed that Maduro was being isolated by the Venezuelan armed forces.

    "I think we are very close to restoring democracy in Venezuela, recovering our freedom and to have people going back to my homeland," he told Al Jazeera from Washington, DC.

    "Maduro is completely isolated from Venezuelans, from the international community and something that has started to happen, he is going isolated by the armed forces which is the only piece of the puzzle that we need to start the transition in Venezuela," Smolansky added.

    "There are so many soldiers that have already expressed their disagreement with the regime because they are suffering from the same problems as any Venezuelans with shortages of food, medicine and hyperinflation."

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies