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In Venezuela, Guaido calls for military to turn against Maduro

The political power struggle in Venezuela took a violent turn Tuesday, as opposition leader Juan Guaido appealed to the military to turn against President Nicolas Maduro’s regime, and for the public to take to the streets. Thousands turned out in support, but it was unclear whether the armed forces are indeed ready to shift allegiance. William Brangham reports on a volatile day in Venezuela.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The power struggle in Venezuela has taken a sudden, violent turn. The opposition leader appealed to the military today to turn against the regime. Thousands of protesters responded, but it wasn't clear whether the armed forces are indeed ready to shift their allegiance.

    William Brangham begins our coverage.

  • William Brangham:

    The call for a military uprising came at dawn. Opposition leader Juan Guaido, flanked by members of the Venezuelan military near a base in the capital, Caracas.

  • Juan Guaido (through translator):

    It is the moment. The moment is now.

  • William Brangham:

    Guaido was also joined by Venezuela's most prominent opposition figure, Leopoldo Lopez, who had been detained since 2014. Lopez said security forces released him from house arrest.

  • Leopoldo Lopez (through translator):

    The majority of men and women in uniform are aware that there has to be a change in Venezuela, and we are appealing to all of them to join in this process of unification of armed forces with the people of Venezuela.

  • William Brangham:

    Soon, hundreds of supporters heeded the calls, waving flags and signs and chanting solidarity. As the day wore on, the crowds swelled into the thousands.

  • Man (through translator):

    Defend freedom. out with tyranny. Yes, the people can. Down with tyranny. Everyone out to the street.

  • William Brangham:

    Guaido insisted that this wasn't a military coup, but an effort to protect the country from President Nicolas Maduro, who is widely accused of stealing last year's election, and whom the U.S. and dozens of other nations have called upon to step down.

  • Juan Guaido (through translator):

    We know that all Venezuelans, including the armed forces, are in favor of the Constitution. What the soldiers are doing today, not only in Caracas, but in the entire nation, is to be on the side of the Constitution.

  • William Brangham:

    Maduro, in turn, tweeted that this was a coup and that he still had the support of the country's military. On state television, his defense minister claimed only a small group of soldiers had joined the uprising and they were incited by the United States.

  • Vladimir Padrino (through translator):

    We vehemently reject this new aggression, led by elements of the North American imperialism and those who are here showing their faces, those behind this, and their lackeys, the master and their slaves here in Venezuela.

  • William Brangham:

    In short order, troops loyal to Maduro fired tear gas to break up the crowds. The sounds of gunfire echoed across the city throughout the afternoon, and a Venezuelan National Guard vehicle was seen running over several protesters who were throwing stones.

    Today, President Trump tweeted: "The United States stands with the people of Venezuela and their freedom."

    And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted, democracy cannot be defeated. National Security Adviser John Bolton joined in later.

  • John Bolton:

    It's a very delicate moment. I want to stress again the president wants to see a peaceful transfer of power from Maduro to Guaido. That possibility still exists, if enough figures depart from the regime and support the opposition.

  • William Brangham:

    Elsewhere in the region, Colombia's president, Ivan Duque, urged Venezuelans to back Guaido and reject dictatorship. His Brazilian counterpart, Jair Bolsonaro, tweeted support for the opposition a well.

    But two of Maduro's key allies, Cuba and Bolivia, denounced today's rebellion and blamed the U.S. for provoking violence and death. The last major confrontation in Venezuela came in February, when opposition activists tried to deliver humanitarian aid into the country. At least four people died, and scores more were wounded.

    All of this in a country that was once wealthy, but has descended into economic turmoil in recent years, with hyperinflation and skyrocketing debt. The country is also under crippling U.S. sanctions on its oil industry.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.

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