Venezuela to close its US embassy, consulates: Maduro

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro seen here with Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino still has the military's backing

The statement of the Islamic Republic comes after the United States and some other countries recognised head of the disempowered National Assembly Juan Guaido as the "rightful head" of Venezuela and urged President Nicolas Maduro to "step aside".

Instead of backing down, Guaido stunned Venezuelans on Wednesday by declaring himself interim president before cheering supporters in Venezuela's capital, buoyed by massive anti-government protests.

"Out! Leave Venezuela. Here we have dignity, damn it", Maduro said, giving U.S. diplomats 72 hours to depart. The U.S., Canada, some Latin American and European countries supported Guaido's claim that the constitution makes him interim president.

A half-dozen generals belonging largely to district commands and with direct control over thousands of troops joined Maduro in accusing the United States of meddling in Venezuela's affairs and said they would uphold the socialist leader's rule.

Colombian President Ivan Duque, another United States ally also at Davos, told reporters his country was behind Guaido and will "accompany this process of transition to democracy so that the Venezuelan people free themselves of their dictatorship".

"The President of Russian Federation expressed support for the legitimate authorities of Venezuela in the context of a domestic political crisis that has been provoked from the outside", it said.

National security adviser John Bolton said Thursday that the White House is focused on "disconnecting" Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro from his sources of revenue.

The diplomats were likely to leave Caracas around midday on one of two daily flights to Miami by American Airlines, the last-remaining US carrier to serve Venezuela after Delta and United Airlines pulled out in 2017 amid a political crisis that has forced millions to flee the country. China also said it supported efforts to protect Venezuela's independence and stability.

But for the frontal assault on Maduro's authority to succeed, Venezuelans fearful of taking to the streets again after past uprisings ended in violent crackdowns and bitter divisions must be prepared to risk it all again.

US President Donald Trump nearly immediately recognised Guaido's claims to power, declaring Maduro "illegitimate" and the National Assembly "the only legitimate branch of government".

"I will continue to use the full weight of the United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy". He said the armed forces will never accept a leader forced on their country.

"The fact is Venezuela is in our hemisphere, I think we have a special responsibility here, and I think the president feels very strongly about it", he answered.

"The civil rights, freedom and safety of all members of the National Assembly, including its president, Juan Guaido, need to be observed and fully respected", Mogherini said.

Many Venezuelans were looking for Guaido to re-emerge and provide guidance on the opposition's next steps.

After years of turmoil, Venezuela's political crisis has escalated dramatically over the past few days. He has said little about what policies he would pursue as president, but Popular Will describe themselves as center-left social democrats.

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