Venezuela power struggle heats up with Guaido curbs, protest plans

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Guaido, 35, last week declared himself the acting president in an effort to remove President Nicolas Maduro from power, throwing the South American country further into political crisis.

Late Wednesday afternoon, President Donald Trump tweeted that he had spoken with Guaido that day to "congratulate him on his historic assumption of the presidency" and to reinforce "strong United States support for Venezuela's fight to regain its democracy".

The Supreme Court, stacked with Maduro loyalists, has approved a preliminary investigation into Guaido's activities.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed off on the order last week, which was then followed on Monday, January 28, by US sanctions targeting Venezuela's state oil giant PDVSA, the cash-strapped government's main source of hard currency.

"You shouldn't sacrifice yourselves for the usurper and his gang", he added.

After waves of daily protests in recent years failed to dislodge Maduro, the opposition has adopted a different strategy, said opposition leader and lawmaker Juan Andres Mejia, which is to demonstrate the will to protest without raising expectations among supporters or provoking the government into a violent response.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton warned Saab in a Twitter post Tuesday that his request to keep Guaido from leaving Venezuela could lead to "serious consequences".

Maduro said the United States is trying to "steal" Citgo from Venezuela.

Venezuelan Bolivarian National Guardsmen line up near a Divine Mercy Jesus Christ poster outside the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, on January 29, 2019. Because Maduro has used the military to torture, beat, and kill peaceful dissidents - and was "re-elected" in a vote worldwide observers consider fraudulent - Guaidó invoked constitutional Articles 333 and 350 to take over, with a mandate to hold free and fair elections as soon as possible.

"The military's withdrawal of support from Mr. (President Nicolas) Maduro is crucial to enabling a change in government".

These protests were peaceful, a relief after last week's mass unrest when security forces killed more than 40 people.

Mexico and Iraq are instead most likely to benefit in the race to replace Venezuela heavy crude imported for processing at refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, analysts at RBC Capital Markets said in a report. "They called for dialogue". He has previously accused the USA of trying to orchestrate a coup d'etat.

The United States has refused to rule out military intervention in Venezuela.

Russian Federation sharply criticized the move, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accusing Washington of "publicly setting a course for illegal regime change".

The flight, operated by Russia's Nordwind Airlines, left Venezuela at 4.52 pm local time (2152 GMT), a Reuters witness said.

This decision had been taken as part of a deal reached by the Lima Group aimed at countering the Venezuelan government, the official added, as cited by the Republic news outlet on Wednesday.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan did not rule out a USA military deployment to Colombia.

Regarding the widespread food shortages and near-total lack of medicine in the country, Maduro told Americans that "problems arise [in Venezuela] every day like they do anywhere else".

He also called on the European Union to level "more sanctions" against Maduro's government.