Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has taken to the streets with detained activist Leopoldo Lopez and a small contingent of heavily armed soldiers in a military uprising.
Guaido said on Tuesday he had begun the “final phase” of his plan to oust President Nicolas Maduro, calling on Venezuelans and the military to back him to end Maduro’s “usurpation.”
A Reuters journalist later saw Guaido near the La Carlota air force base in Caracas, surrounded by a group of men in uniform.
“The national armed forces have taken the correct decision, and they count on the support of the Venezuelan people,” Guaido said in a video posted on his Twitter account.
En el marco de nuestra constitución. Y por el cese definitivo de la usurpación. <a href=”https://t.co/3RD2bnQhxt”>https://t.co/3RD2bnQhxt</a>
Lopez said he has been freed by the military.
“This is the moment of all Venezuelans, those in uniform and those who aren’t,” said Lopez in his first public appearance since being detained in 2014 for leading anti-government protests. “Everyone should come to the streets, in peace.”
As Lopez spoke, there were sporadic efforts with tear gas to break up the protesters who gathered on a highway overpass in wealthier eastern Caracas. It appeared to have been fired from inside the Carlota air base. But more people gathered as they sensed what could be their strongest opportunity yet to overthrow the government.
“It’s now or never,” said one of the young soldiers, his face covered in the blue bandanna preferred by the few dozen soldiers who stood alongside Guaido and Lopez.
Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez later tweeted the government was confronting a small group of “military traitors” seeking to promote a coup.
Venezuela’s socialist party boss, Diosdado Cabello, called on government supporters to amass at the presidential palace to defend Maduro from what he called a small uprising of traitorous military soldiers backed by the U.S.
Cabello downplayed the significance of the rebellion, saying Caracas is in calm and the Carlota air base near where the rebellious soldiers are gathered had not been touched.
‘Largest march in Venezuela’s history’ goes Wednesday
Guaido said soldiers who had taken to the streets were protecting Venezuela’s constitution. He made the comments a day before a planned anti-government rally.
“The moment is now,” he said.
Guaido, of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, in January invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, arguing Maduro’s re-election in 2018 was illegitimate.
He has been travelling outside the capital, Caracas, more and more in recent weeks to try to put pressure on Maduro to step down.
Protests are planned for Wednesday, including what Guaido has said will be “the largest march in Venezuela’s history,” part of what he calls the “definitive phase” of his effort to take office in order to call fresh elections.
Maduro calls Guaido a U.S-backed puppet who seeks to oust him in a coup. The government has arrested his top aide, stripped Guaido of his parliamentary immunity and opened multiple probes. It has also barred him from leaving the country, a ban Guaido openly violated earlier this year.
Last week, Guaido said his congressional ally — opposition lawmaker Gilber Caro — had been detained, and that 11 members of his team had been summoned to appear before the Sebin intelligence agency.
This story originally appeared on CBC