Army must prepare to counter US 'threats': Maduro

Caracas (AFP) –


Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro called on his army Tuesday to ready their weapons to defend the country in an escalating war of words with US President Donald Trump.

Maduro joined his army top brass at a military exercise near the northern city of Maracay, where he reminded them of their obligation to defend the country.

"We have been shamelessly threatened by the most criminal empire that ever existed and we have the obligation to prepare ourselves to guarantee peace," said Maduro, wearing an olive green uniform and a military hat.

Maduro's speech came two days after Trump signed a decree adding a raft of top Venezuelan officials to a travel ban encompassing eight countries that Washington says pose a security threat.

The US in August banned American financial institutions from lending new money to Venezuela's government or its state oil company PDVSA. It has also imposed financial sanctions on Maduro and about 20 top officials.

Last week, Trump told the UN General Assembly that the US was ready to act to restore democracy to Venezuela, after months of deadly protests and economic chaos.

Maduro has tried to consolidate control, including through a new Constituent Assembly that has wrested power from the opposition-dominated legislature, a move heavily criticized by the international community.

Maduro said in his speech at the Libertador airbase that his government wanted prosperity for the nation "but to realize it we need to have rifles, missiles and well-oiled tanks at the defend every inch of the territory if needs be."

"The future of humanity cannot be the world of illegal sanctions, of economic persecution," he said in a reference to a US travel ban imposed on officials from a list of government agencies and their families.

Maduro oversaw air and ground forces simulating a troop landing involving tanks and missiles. Russian aircraft flew overhead as part of the exercise.

Maduro reminded his forces that Venezuela had what he called "the most modern rocket system the armed forces has ever had at any time in its history."