Maduro proposes early polls | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 04, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 04, 2019

Maduro proposes early polls

Guaido, US call on military to switch side as rival rallies rock country

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro proposed early parliamentary elections on Saturday, seeking to shore up his crumbling rule after a senior general defected to the opposition and tens of thousands thronged the streets in protest at his government.

As domestic and international pressure on Maduro to step down mounts, a senior air force general disavowed him in a video that circulated earlier on Saturday, expressing his allegiance to parliament head and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido.

The military's support is crucial for Maduro, who is deeply unpopular, largely due to an unprecedented economic crisis that has prompted an exodus of millions. Maduro claims he is victim of a coup directed by the United States.

In a speech to supporters, Maduro said the powerful government-controlled Constituent Assembly would debate calling elections this year for the National Assembly parliament, which is opposition-controlled.

Guaido has called for a new, fair presidential election after the disputed vote won by Maduro last year.

"You want elections? You want early elections? We are going to have parliamentary elections," Maduro told a pro-government rally in Caracas, held to commemorate the 20th anniversary of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez's first inauguration as president.

While small rebellions against Maduro have broken out in Venezuela's armed forces in recent months, there has been no large scale military uprising against him.

A top White House official called on Venezuela's military to follow the lead of a general who sided with Guaido.

At an opposition rally in Caracas, Guaido told his supporters he expected more to follow the general's example. The previously little-known 35-year old industrial engineer has offered the military and public officials amnesty if they defect.

Humanitarian aid from an "international coalition" would soon flow into Venezuela, which is facing rampant hunger and medicine shortages, from collection points in Brazil, Colombia and a Caribbean island, Guaido said.

It is unclear whether Maduro's government, which denies the country is suffering a humanitarian crisis, will let any foreign aid through.

US, Canada and several Latin American nations have recognized Guaido as the legitimate head-of-state. Some European Union member states are expected to officially recognize Guaido next week, while others will likely take a more cautious stance of support. Maduro still has the backing of Russia and China.

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