Venezuela's opposition exchanges gunfire with regime soldiers after declaring a military coup to force out President Nicolás Maduro

YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty ImagesVenezuelan soldiers loyal to Nicolás Maudro fled under tear gas from supporters of the opposition leader Juan Guaidó on Tuesday.
  • The Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó on Tuesday said he was launching a military-backed operation to oust President Nicolás Maduro.
  • He gathered with supporters in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, where a firefight broke out between his supporters and soldiers loyal to Maduro.
  • Guaidó says he has acquired the support of the military, which has historically backed Maduro – the extent of support for Guaidó is unclear.
  • Guaidó has been in a tug-of-war with Maduro since declaring himself the legitimate interim president in January.
  • The US, the UK, and other international allies have restated their support for Guaidó, whom they recognise as Venezuela’s leader.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

The Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared a military coup against the government of President Nicolás Maduro on Tuesday morning, sparking a confrontation that escalated into an armed conflict.

In a message to supporters online, Guaidó announced the beginning of what he called “Operation Liberty” and called for supporters to rally at a military air base in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas.

Reporters for the news agency Reuters reported that the gathering at the military air base – called La Carlota – came under fire Tuesday morning and shot back. Reuters said both sides appeared to be using live rounds.

Part of the clash can be seen in this video, broadcast by the Latin American TV channel NTN24. A noise that sounds like gunfire can be heard:

The opposition leader then held a rally at Francia de Altamira square wherehe told supporters: “Today it became clear that the armed forces are with the people and not with the dictator.”

Maduro called for his supporters to maintain “nerves of steel,”tweeting that he still has complete loyalty from his commanders.

His government also said it was taking action against “a small group of traitors” in the military who had defected to Guaidó.

In his announcement Tuesday morning, Guaidó was seen surrounded by uniformed men whom he described as Venezuelan soldiers who switched their loyalty to him.

“People of Venezuela, the end of the usurpation has begun,”Guaidó said on Twitter. “At the moment I am meeting with the principal military units from the armed forces to start the final phase of Operation Liberty.”

He said the gathering at La Carlota would set in motion the “definitive end” to Maduro’s rule.

Guaidó was joined by Leopoldo López, another opposition leader who had been under house arrest for two years. López tweeted that he was freed by soldiers supporting Guaidó.

Venezuela’s government said it was working to stop the uprising.

Jorge Rodríguez, the Vice President of Communications, said on Twitter that the state was “confronting and deactivating a small group of traitors in our military personnel.”

Venezuela’s defence minister, Vladimir Padrino, tweeted: “The armed forces are firmly in defence of the national constitution and its legitimate authorities.”

Venezuela la carlota coup(Ariana Cubillos/AP)Soldiers supporting Guaidó.

Diosdado Cabello, the leader of Maduro’s socialist party, urged Maduro supporters to rally in front of the presidential palace, according to the AP.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said President Donald Trump had been briefed. “We are monitoring the ongoing situation,” BBC News reported her as saying.

Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, tweeted that the US government “fully supports the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom and democracy.”

Russian news agencies reported that President Vladimir Putin, an ally of Maduro, had scheduled a meeting to discuss the uprisings with his Security Council, according to the AP.

Venezuela military protest(Boris Vergara/AP)An opposition protester with a rebel soldier.

Guaidó has been trying to oust Maduro since January, when Guaidó declared himself the legitimate interim president of Venezuela. He cited emergency powers in the constitution that he argued gave him the right to rule.

More than 50 countries, including the US, the UK, and all the nations of the European Union, have backed Guaidó’s claim to power.

Most Latin American nations also support Guaidó, as shown in this map:

Venezuela map(amCharts/INSIDER)The countries in green recognised Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president as of January 24. Countries in red supported Maduro, while Venezuela itself is in yellow.

Besides calling for new elections, one of Guaidó’s main goals was to win support from Maduro’s power base: the army.

The power is especially concentrated among high-ranking officers who hold important government positions and run influential companies under the socialist government.

Though hundreds of soldiers have defected to neighbouring countries and pledged allegiance to Guaidó, most of these are from the lower ranks.

Guaidó has said that he will offer amnesty to any member of the armed forces who has not committed crimes against humanity.

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