Venezuelans gather as opposition leader calls for more protests amid uprising

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VENEZUELA-POLITICS/

Thousands of opposition protesters gathered at different points in Caracas, heeding a call by opposition leader Juan Guaido for the “largest march” in Venezuela’s history a day after his calls for a military uprising fell short.

Some of Wednesday’s protesters in Altamira district said they were disappointed by the failure of the military to respond to the call to oust President Nicolas Maduro, as well as by the lack of a massive presence of demonstrators that could force a change of government.

Maduro has accused Guaido of trying to stage a coup and says there will be criminal prosecutions.

“Today we continue,” Guaido said in a post on Twitter early on Wednesday. “We will keep going with more strength than ever, Venezuela.” The planned march had not yet begun.

Whether the protest turnout meets those lofty hopes will provide a key test for Guaido, amid frustration among some supporters that Maduro remained in office more than three months after Guaido — who leads the opposition-controlled National Assembly — invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, arguing Maduro’s May 2018 re-election was illegitimate.

In his boldest effort yet to gain the support of the armed forces, Guaido appeared early Tuesday outside a Caracas air force base with dozens of National Guard members.

That triggered a day of violent protests, leaving more than 100 injured, but without any concrete signs of defection from the armed forces leadership.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by phone that further “aggressive steps” in Venezuela would be met with the gravest consequences, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said.

Lavrov also condemned what he called the United States’ “interference” in Venezuela’s internal affairs as a breach of international law, adding that dialogue between all political forces is required in the Latin American country.

Earlier, Pompeo said during a television interview on Wednesday that the United States was prepared to take military action to stem the ongoing turmoil in Venezuela.

“Military action is possible. If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do,” Pompeo said in an interview with Fox Business Network, but added the United States would prefer a peaceful transition of power in Venezuela.

While Guaido earned the backing of the U.S.and most Western countries, the armed forces have stood by Maduro, who retains the support of allies like Russia, China and Cuba.

That has frustrated Guaido’s bid to assume the day-to-day functions of government on an interim basis, which he says would be a prelude to calling new elections.

Maduro, a socialist, calls Guaido a puppet of the U.S. who is seeking to orchestrate a coup against him.