Venezuela’s Guaido urges supporters to protest

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Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has called for nationwide demonstrations on Monday to coincide with his planned return to the country, in a challenge expected to escalate his power struggle with President Nicolas Maduro.

Guaido on Sunday tweeted that Venezuelans should monitor his official announcements and that he would provide details about meeting points for supporters. He said they should gather across the country at 11 a.m.

The leader of the National Assembly who has declared himself president also tweeted a photo of himself walking across an airfield ahead of his departure from the naval base in Salinas, Ecuador, where he met Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno on Saturday. Guaido said he was “taking off,” but did not say where the plane was heading.

In Venezuela, anticipation grew ahead of Guaido’s expected arrival. Opposition activists circulated a call on social media for people to gather on Monday morning at the Alfredo Sadel plaza in Las Mercedes, a shopping and entertainment area in Caracas where protests have been held in the past.

The government, meanwhile, has urged Venezuelans to celebrate the carnival season slated for Monday and Tuesday by traveling to beaches and other holiday spots. Many people, however, don’t have the resources for leisure trips and opposition supporters say the country should not celebrate in times of crisis.

Guaido was in Ecuador as part of a tour of Latin American countries designed to increase pressure on Maduro to resign. Maduro’s government has not made any official comment about its adversary’s imminent return to Venezuela.

Guaido wants Maduro to quit, saying Venezuela can then emerge from its political and humanitarian crisis with international support. Maduro says Guaido is part of a US-backed plot to overthrow his government and that a failed attempt by the opposition to bring aid into Venezuela from Brazil and Colombia last weekend was a political stunt.

The United States and about 50 other countries recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s president, arguing that Maduro’s re-election last year was a sham. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has warned against any action by the Venezuelan government against him.

“In this respect any measure that could put at risk Juan Guaido’s freedom, safety or personal integrity would represent a major escalation of tensions and meet the firm condemnation of the international community,” Mogherini said.

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