Maduro, Guaido call for rival rallies for the weekend
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro urged his supporters on March 5 to attend “anti-imperialist” rallies on March 9, the same date that anti-government marches will be held by the opposition.
Speaking at a ceremony to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the death of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, Maduro said he would defeat a “crazed minority” planning to destabilize the country.
“We'll do it for Chavez, for the great history of the country,” he said.
"The crazed minority continues in their bitterness. We are going to defeat them, be absolutely sure," he stressed.
It was Maduro's first public speech since opposition leader Juan Guaido returned to the country on March 4 following visits to several Latin American countries.
In the meantime, pposition leader Guaido held talks with Venezuela's public sector unions on March 5 about staging strikes to help bring down the government.
The strikes would ratchet up pressure on Maduro by giving several million state employees, a traditional bastion of government support, a chance to demonstrate their frustration with an administration that has overseen Venezuela's deepest ever economic crisis.
"They thought the pressure had already maxed out," said Guaido, who is recognized by most Western nations as Venezuela's legitimate head of state.
"They better know that the pressure has barely begun," he told a news conference.
While Guaido had publicly speculated that authorities would detain him when he returned, he passed through Caracas' international airport without a problem. He then sped to a march where he mocked the government for letting him in so easily, telling the crowd: "Somebody didn't follow an order."
The socialist government had kept unusually silent since Guaido landed, with no top officials commenting until Maduro spoke at the ceremony, held at the military barracks where Chavez launched a failed 1992 coup. He became president seven years later.
Maduro accuses Guaido of leading a coup, orchestrated by the U.S. government, and has said he will "face justice." The former trade union leader denies there is a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and has blocked the opposition's attempts to bring in aid to alleviate shortages of food and medicine.
Meanwhile, U.S. is considering imposing new sanctions on Venezuela to increase pressure on Maduro's government to give up power, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said on March 5.
"We're looking at new sanctions, new measures to tighten our grip on Maduro's financial wherewithal, to deny his regime the money that they need to stay in power," Bolton told Fox Business Network.