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Venezuela opposition leader Guaido calls for ‘major demonstration’ next week

Federico Parra, AFP | Venezuela's Juan Guaido (C) waves at a crowd of opposition supporters in Caracas, Jan. 25, 2019.

Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido on Friday called a "major demonstration" next week to demand the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro in his first public appearance since declaring himself "acting president" two days ago.

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Guaido said the public would remain in the streets "until we achieve an end to the usurpation, a transitional government and free elections".

Guaido and Maduro have been locked in a power struggle since the 35-year-old leader of Venezuela's opposition-controlled legislature, proclaimed himself "acting president" Wednesday, declaring that Maduro's inauguration this month for a new six-year term was illegitimate.

Reacting to a statement by Maduro that he was open to holding talks with “this young man", Guaido said he would not attend a “fake dialogue”.

"When they don't get the results they want through repression, they offer us fake dialogue instead," he told a separate news conference in a Caracas square.

"I want that to be clear to the world and to this regime: nobody here is signing up for a false dialogue."

Juan Guaido: The face of Venezuela's anti-Maduro opposition

The standoff has split the international community between nations that recognise Guaido as president, including the US and a dozen countries in the region, and those that still recognise Maduro, including Russia and China.

However, some in the latter group are urging the two sides to hold talks -- including Mexico, which said it was prepared to host them.

"We couldn't carry this out without a request from both sides... (but) we are more than willing to help facilitate a dialogue, without the use of force or violence, to resolve the problems" Venezuela is facing, said Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

UN Security Council to meet to discuss crisis

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also called Thursday for talks, urging both sides to "avoid an escalation that would lead to the kind of conflict that would be a disaster for the people of Venezuela and for the region".

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to brief the UN Security Council on Saturday and urge members to recognise Guaido as the oil-rich nation's legitimate head of state, the US State Department said in a statement.

The meeting of the 15-member council was requested by the US.

However Moscow has opposed Washington’s call for Maduro to step down and has accused the US of trying to usurp power in Venezuela. Moscow will insist on compliance with international law, Russia's RIA news agency cited Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Friday.

Private military contractors who do secret missions for Russia have flown into Venezuela in the past few days to beef up security for Maduro, who has been in power since 2013, Reuters reported on Friday, quoting unnamed sources.

Maduro has announced that he would be sending Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza to Saturday’s UN meeting.

"(We) welcome the debate! It's what we wanted. Mike Pompeo beat me to it. Thanks Mike," said Maduro ironically, adding that Jorge Arreaza has his "visa" to go to New York.

He said in a news conference in Caracas that Arreaza would take "Venezuela's truth" to the UN

France warns Maduro not to ‘repress’ opposition

Meanwhile French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Friday urged Maduro to refrain from cracking down on the opposition as the EU is drafting an appeal for the disputed Venezuelan president to call fresh elections.

At a press conference in Paris Friday, Le Drian told reporters that France “firmly urges Mr. Maduro to refrain from any form of repression against the opposition, any resort to violence against peaceful demonstrators".

Le Drian added that, "We intend to fully back Venezuela's national assembly and its president as democratically-elected institutions which... must fully play [their] role."

The EU is drafting an appeal for Maduro to call elections to resolve a political crisis, according to EU diplomats.

Since Maduro came to power in 2013, Venezuela has descended into an economic crisis that has left millions in poverty and shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine.

Some 2.3 million people have fled the country since 2015, according to the UN. Inflation is forecast to hit 10 million percent this year.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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