U.S. President Donald Trump has said he recognizes Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president, leading the South American country break diplomatic relations with bitter rival Washington.
Guaido, the president of the opposition-led National Assembly, earlier on January 23 declared himself acting president in Caracas, as tens of thousands of people marched across the country against socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
Canada, Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia were among regional countries offering support for Guaido, while European Union Council President Donald Tusk tweeted that 'I hope all of Europe will united in support of democratic forces in Venezuela.'
'Unlike Maduro, the parliamentary assembly, including Juan Guaido have a democratic mandate from Venezuelan citizens,' Tusk wrote.
Russian lawmakers, meanwhile, accused the United States of attempting to stage the next color revolution in Venezuela, using the term for popular uprisings that overthrew leaders in countries such as Ukraine and Georgia.
'I do not think we can recognize this. It is, in essence, a coup,' Duma foreign affairs committee member Vladimir Dzhabrailov was quoted as saying by the Interfax agency.
Russia has had close relations with Venezuela under Maduro and recently sent two nuclear-capable strategic bombers to the country to participate in military maneuvers in an unusual display of Russian military force in South America. Venezuela has also purchased millions of dollars in military equipment from Russia in recent years.
Venezuelas defense minister, Vladimir Padrino Lopez, in a Twitter statement indicated that the countrys armed forces would not recognize Guaido, or any other 'self-proclaimed' person, as president.
'Soldiers of the Motherland do not recognize the president imposed on us under the influence of foreign interests and self-proclaimed unlawfully. The Armed Forces are defending the Constitution and are guarantors of national sovereignty,' he wrote, raising fears of further violence.
Images from the protests in the capital showed some demonstrators facing off against National Guard security forces, tear gas being dispersed, and vehicles on fire. A rally the night before reportedly left four people dead.
Some counterdemonstrations were also being held in support of Maduro, who was reelected last year in a vote labeled as illegitimate at home and abroad.
He was sworn in for a second term two weeks ago but has been met by international condemnation.
In response to Trump's recognition of the opposition leader, Maduro gave all U.S. diplomatic staff in the country 72 hours to leave.
Maduro, who took office in 2013 after the death of Hugo Chavez, has been criticized for alleged human rights abuses and for his handling of Venezuela's economy.
An estimated 3 million people have fled the country amid shortages of items like medicine and food.
With reporting by the BBC, AP, Reuters, Interfax, and AFP RFE/RL
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