Venezuela opposition leader declares himself interim president

US recognises Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s acting president after the opposition leader swore himself in as leader.

Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself the country’s interim president on Wednesday before thousands of demonstrators cheering in support.

“I swear to formally assume the powers of the Presidency of Venezuela,” the 35-year-old politician said as he raised his right hand.

The move comes as tens of thousands march around Venezuela demanding that Nicolas Maduro steps down from power. Pro-government counter-rallies are also being held.

Maduro was sworn in for a contested second term two weeks ago but has been met by international condemnation.

Trump recognises Guaido as president

Shortly after Guaido swore himself in, US President Donald Trump officially recognised Guaido as president.

In its role as the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people, the National Assembly invoked the country’s constitution to declare Nicolas Maduro illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant” Trump said.

“The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” he added.

Brazil and Colombia supported the move, and the leader of the Organization of American States (OAS) also recognised Guaido as the acting president.

A Canadian government official told Reuters news agency that Ottawa will also recognise Guaido as president.

Mexico’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson has said that the country does not intend to change its policy toward Venezuela “for the time being”.

Maduro maintains that his presidency is legitimate and accuses the United States and other countries of waging an “economic war” to remove him from power.

On Tuesday, he ordered a “revision” of Venezuela’s diplomatic relations with the United States. The order came after US Vice President Mike Pence declared support for anti-government protesters and opposition leaders.

Maduro’s government has yet to respond to Guaido’s latest move. His government has accused Guaido of staging a coup and has threatened him with jail.

Government supporter Juan Romero told Al Jazeera that the opposition’s move and the US support is a “dangerous action”.

“The constitutional president of the country is Nicolas Maduro,” Romero said.

But many do believe this is a legitimate move.

“Guaido has taken the presidency protected by the article 233 of the Constitution,” Carlos Haro, a Venezuelan lawyer, told Al Jazeera.

“We are going through a constitutional transition, and the best thing for all would be that this transition leads to authentic elections,” he added.

Rival protests

Anti-government demonstrators clogged avenues in eastern Caracas on Wednesday, chanting “Get out, Maduro” and “Guaido, Presidente,” while waving national flags.

Pro-government demonstrators dressed in red in support of Maduro were also marching in the capital, at times crossing paths with opposition protesters and shouting “sell outs” and “traitors”. National guardsmen launched tear gas at anti-government protesters in the middle-class neighbourhood of El Paraiso but for the most part the marches continued without conflict.

“Join us!” the protesters cried out to a line of officers wearing helmets and carrying shields. “You are also living this crisis!”

A rally the night before left four people reported dead, an echo of tumultuous riots two years ago.

The opposition protest is considered a crucial test for the reinvigorated opposition as it seeks to send a forceful message that Maduro no longer has the people’s backing and appeals to the military and the poor to shift loyalties that until recently looked solidly behind the president.

The protests were called to coincide with an historic date for Venezuelans – the anniversary of the 1958 coup that overthrew military dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez.

The opposition has been energised by young congress chief Guaido, who has led a campaign to declare Maduro a usurper and has promised a transition to a new government in a nation suffering a hyperinflationary economic collapse.

Maduro was inaugurated on January 10 to another term in office following a widely boycotted election last year that many foreign governments described as a fraudulent.

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