Heavy gunfire crackled through the Venezuelan capital of Caracas on Tuesday after opposition leader Juan Guaido called for an uprising against President Nicolas Maduro.
Guaido called for protesters and members of the military to join Operation Liberty in a video taken at La Carlota airbase in the capital Caracas while surrounded by heavily-armed soldiers.
The troops then fanned out to set up defensive positions before Maduro’s forces arrived and opened fire with teargas followed by live rounds, according to witnesses.
Guiado, who has the backing of the US and most Western governments, has been trying to oust Maduro for months using largely non-violent protests.
But things took a dramatic turn Tuesday morning when the self-styled interim president posted a video of himself to Twitter surrounded by soldiers and called for an uprising against Maduro which he dubbed Operation Liberty.
Guiado has based himself at La Carlota airbase in the capital Caracas (pictured, protesters nearby), where heavy gunfire was heard hours after his announcement
A solider loyal to Guaido aims his handgun over the parapet of an overpass near the La Carlota airbase in Caracas
Tear gas canisters were fired at civilians and troops who had joined Guaido on Tuesday morning, before apparent clashes with Maduro’s troops
Guiado has been trying to oust Maduro for months using largely peaceful protests, but that changed on Tuesday as he announced an uprising against the President
A large number of people on motorbikes gathered on a motorway overpass leading to the airbase before tear gas was fired, followed by live rounds
Opposition leader Juan Guaido appeared in a video (pictured) with a small contingent of heavily armed soldiers and formerly detained opposition activist Leopoldo Lopez calling for Venezuelans to take to the streets to oust President Maduro in Operation Liberty
Soldiers who had defected to Guiado were seen setting up heavy machine gun posts on the overpass shortly before gunfire broke out
Venezuelan military forces fire tear gas in an attempt to disperse protesters at the airbase
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido said on Tuesday he had began the ‘final phase’ of his plan to oust President Nicolas Maduro
American National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have since tweeted their support for Guaido, saying: ‘The United States stands with the people of Venezuela.’
Guaido called on Venezuelans and the military to join him on the streets, as government vowed to put down what it said was an attempted coup.
In the three-minute video Guaido, speaking in the company of men in military uniform and opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez, said he was at the Caracas air base La Carlota.
Soldiers who took to the streets would be acting to protect Venezuela’s constitution, Guaido said. He made the comments a day before a planned anti-government rally.
‘The moment is now,’ he said, as his political mentor Lopez and several heavily armed soldiers backed by a single armored vehicle looked on.
Lopez has been under house arrest for leading an anti-government push in 2014.
Making his first public appearance since his detention, Mr Lopez said: ‘This is the moment of all Venezuelans, those in uniform and those who aren’t.
‘Everyone should come to the streets, in peace.’
Lopez said he had been ‘freed’ from jail by soldiers supporting Guaido. He posted a picture on Twitter with men in uniform from the Carlota military base.
‘Venezuela: the definitive phase to end the usurpation, Operation Liberty, has begun,’ read the message.
US-backed Mr Guaido also said ‘the end of the usurpation’ was beginning against the Maduro goverment.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton both backed Guaido’s call, saying that American ‘stands with the Venezuelan people’
Lopez (centre), who had been under house arrest for leading an anti-government push in 2014, said he had been freed by soldiers and called for a military uprising
Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez talks to media after being released from his home in Caracas, Venezuela, where he has been kept under house arrest since 2014
Uprising soldiers stands outside La Carlota air base in Caracas on Tuesday April 30
US-backed Mr Guaido said ‘the end of the usurpation’ was beginning against the government of Nicolas Maduro (pictured)
‘In this moment I am meeting with the principal military units of our Armed Forces giving the start to the final phase of Operation Liberty,’ he added.
‘The national armed forces have taken the correct decision, and they count on the support of the Venezuelan people,’ Guaido said.
Venezuela’s information Minister Jorge Rodriguez responded on Twitter, saying the government is confronting a small group of ‘military traitors’ that are seeking to promote a coup.
Mr Rodriguez tweeted: ‘We inform the people of Venezuela at the moment we are confronting and deactivating a reduced group of military traitors who are positioning themselves in the Distribuidor Altamira (neighbourhood) to promote a coup d’etat against the constitution and the peace of the Republic.
A Venezuelan soldier stands guard at La Carlota army base, where Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was led to meet with interim President Juan Guaido after he being released from his home, in eastern Caracas
Tear gas was fired at a highway overpass next to the Caracas air base where several heavily-armed soldiers with a blue band wrapped around their forearms had been standing guard. The tear gas appeared to have been fired from inside the air base
Tear gas floats in the air near the Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase ‘La Carlota’, in Caracas
People react to tear gas near the Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase ‘La Carlota’, in Caracas
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has called for a military uprising, in a video shot at the air base showing him surrounded by soldiers and accompanied by detained activist Leopoldo Lopez
‘To this intent is added the putschist and murderous ultra right which announced its violent agenda months ago.
‘We call on the people to maintain maximum alert so, together the glorious National Armed Bolivarian forces defeat the intent to mount a coup and preserve the peace. We will win.’
Venezuela’s socialist party boss, Diosdado Cabello, called on government supporters to amass at the presidential palace to defend Maduro.
Guaido invoked the constitution to assume the interim presidency in January after declaring Maduro’s re-election a fraud.
He has the support of more than 50 countries, including the United States, which also recognise him as interim president.