Demonstrators clashed with police on the streets of the Venezuelan capital, spurred by opposition leader Juan Guaido’s call on the military to rise up against President Nicolas Maduro, who said he 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.
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Maduro declared victory on Tuesday evening over the uprising – congratulating the armed forces for having “defeated this small group that intended to spread violence through putschist skirmishes”.
“This will not go unpunished,” Maduro said in an address broadcast on television and the radio.
“[Prosecutors] will launch criminal prosecutions for the serious crimes that have been committed against the constitution, the rule of law and the right to peace.”
Guaido, in a video posted on Twitter earlier on Tuesday, said he had started the “final phase” of his campaign to remove Maduro from power. He was surrounded by individuals in military uniforms and opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez.
Guaido said he was at the Caracas airbase La Carlota.
“The time is now,” he said. “We are going to achieve freedom and democracy in Venezuela.”
Thousands of opposition supporters flocked onto a highway near the airbase, many waving Venezuelan flags, but they were met with gunfire and tear-gas fired by soldiers at the compound’s perimeter.
Lopez later entered the Chilean embassy with his wife and one of his children to claim asylum, before moving to the Spanish embassy, Chile’s Foreign Minister Roberto Ampuero announced in Santiago.
In Caracas, Maduro’s supporters rallied, chanting slogans of support while some people were giving out posters of Maduro with the Venezuelan flag behind him.
“Here we are in support of our President Nicolas Maduro, and in support of our beloved homeland … this is a glorious town and our inheritance is freedom,” Areli Rodriguez, 63, a Venezuelan lawyer said from outside the Miraflores Palace, the presidential office.
Other supporters said they went out to support the revolutionary process.
“The opposition in Venezuela is fascist, they do not have the streets, they do not have support and that’s why their only alternative is violence, coups,” Gabriel Rodriguez, a singer and government supporter in Miraflores said.
Hundreds of opposition supporters also responded to Guaido’s call and went out to La Carlota, and other neighbourhoods in Caracas.
“I went out because we need to support the opposition to stop the usurpation of power,” Tony Pompa, an opposition supporter told Al Jazeera.
“I believe that by going out to the streets we will show to the world that we are here, and we want an end to this dictatorship,” he said.
Meanwhile, Guaido also reiterated his calls for “the largest march in Venezuela’s history” on Wednesday.
Venezuela is immersed in a deep economic crisis. Hyperinflation, unemployment and food and medicine shortages have prompted more than three million Venezuelans to leave the country in recent years.
Guaido in January invoked the constitution to declare himself interim president, arguing that Maduro’s re-election in 2018 was illegitimate.
The United States and 50 other mostly Western countries have recognised Guaido while Russia, China, Turkey and Cuba back Maduro.
Additional reporting by Alicia Hernandez in Caracas and Elizabeth Melimopoulos