Venezuelan general defects as anti-Maduro rallies draw huge crowds

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Guaido, the National Assembly president, has led opposition to Maduro since he was elected to his post in December.

Guaido argues that Maduro was re-elected in a sham election previous year, and is invoking two articles of Venezuela's constitution that he says allow him as the leader of the national assembly to assume the presidency and call elections when the current president is holding power illegitimately.

Four major European nations - Britain, France, Germany and Spain - have said they will follow suit if Maduro doesn't call elections by midnight on Sunday.

"For the foreseeable future, we feel like we can maintain a good stable operation and a safe operation on the ground in Venezuela", Chevron CEO Michael Wirth said Friday in a conference call with Wall Street analysts. Both Canada and the United States are backing Guaido, though the populist leader still has no control over state institutions or day-to-day governance.

European Parliament lawmakers recognized Guaido on Thursday as the interim head of state.

"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.

"This is no time for dialogue", Pence said at a church, prompting loud cheers among Venezuelan exiles.

Maduro visited China in September, striking energy and gold mining deals as he sought Beijing's support for his crisis-hit nation.

As Nicolas Maduro, the authoritarian ruler, tries to stave off mounting worldwide pressure to relinquish power, the fate of those gold bars has become a cause of great concern both in Venezuela and overseas.

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Elections for the opposition-controlled National Assembly aren't supposed to take place again until 2020.

"We are not just taking aid from the United States", Guaido explained. Threatened US sanctions on Venezuelan oil can ahead weaken the beleaguered country, but some economists say that there is already a better chance the Latin American country can collapse on its own. Mr Guaido has acknowledged "clandestine meetings" with members of the armed forces and security forces, who he is trying to woo with an amnesty offer.

Guaido explained that aid for Venezuela will include life-saving medicines that are scarce in Venezuela and will be transported by vehicles arriving at several border points, after it is shipped into "friendly ports" in neighboring countries.

"The use of sanctions by outside powers to overthrow an elected government is in violation of all norms of global law", he said in a statement in Geneva.

Brendan Cox, a former chief strategist at Save the Children, spoke out after the opposition leader attacked "outside interference" in the socialist South American country.

The government called for a mass rally Thursday to denounce USA sanctions against Venezuela's state-owned oil company that could starve Maduro's government of billions in export revenue but turnout was no more than a few hundred people.

"Nicolas Maduro will do well not to test the resolve of the United States of America", Pence warned on Friday, February 1.

Guaido appeared at his building with his wife and daughter, saying, "They will not intimidate this family".

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