Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president in a defiant speech Wednesday before masses of anti-government demonstrators who took to the streets to demand President Nicolas Maduro’s resignation.
The bold challenge to Maduro’s rule immediately drew recognition from the Trump administration, which said it would use the “full weight” of US economic and diplomatic power to push for the restoration of Venezuela’s democracy.
In response, Maduro announced on Wednesday he was breaking off diplomatic ties with the United States.
“I’ve decided to break diplomatic and political relations with the imperialist government of the United States,” said Maduro to thousands of cheering supporters in Caracas.
“Get out! Leave Venezuela, here there’s dignity, damn it,” he said, giving the US delegation 72 hours to quit the country.
Raising his right hand in union with tens of thousands of supporters, Guaido, the fresh-faced head of the opposition-controlled congress, took a symbolic oath before God to assume the executive powers he says are his right under Venezuela’s constitution, and take over the presidency until new elections can be called.
“Today, January 23, 2019, I swear to formally assume the powers of the national executive as president in charge of Venezuela,” he told the cheering crowd standing before a lectern emblazoned with Venezuela’s national coat of arms
Guaido, 35, said he was taking the politically risky step just two weeks after Maduro took his own oath to a second six-year term confident that it was the only way to rescue Venezuela from “dictatorship” and restore constitutional order.
“We know that this will have consequences,” he shouted, moments before leading the crowd in a dramatic rendering of Venezuela’s national anthem. “To be able to achieve this task and to re-establish the constitution we need the agreement of all Venezuelans.”
The declaration came as tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators poured into the streets Wednesday accusing embattled Maduro of usurping power and demanding he step down as the country reels from a crushing economic crisis forcing millions to flee or go hungry.
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