Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro proposes early Assembly elections as thousands protest

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro has proposed holding early parliamentary elections after more than a week of thousands of protesters taking to the streets calling for his resignation amid a devastating economic crisis.

The 56-year-old's announcement - something he had so far refused to do - came on the same day a senior air force general defected to the opposition.

As well as many people protesting against the President, many others came out in support for him, as well as celebrating 20 years since Hugo Chavez launched the Bolivarian revolution which brought the socialist Government to power .

Anti-government protesters take part in a demonstration on Saturday. Credit: AP

Meanwhile, opposition leader and President of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, who has declared himself interim president and has been backed by the US and several Latin American countries, said humanitarian aid will be gathered from neighbouring Colombia and Brazil, and urged the military to let it into the country.

Mr Maduro has repeatedly objected to aid entering the country.

Mr Guaido has also repeatedly called on the military to defect from Mr Maduro's socialist Government.

Whether the military let much-needed aid into the country or not will be a test of their loyalty, with Mr Maduro ordering them not to.

The military controls some of Venezuela's key assets including the state run oil company, and until now, its top brass has helped Mr Maduro to survive rounds of mass protests in 2014 and 2017 by jailing activists and repressing protesters.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has promised that aid is coming. Credit: Rodrigo Abd/AP

The opposition and a large segment of the international community consider Mr Maduro’s recent re-election fraudulent, in part because the President’s most popular adversaries were barred from running.

Mr Guaido says the constitution allows him to assume power temporarily when the president is deemed illegitimate.

Mr Maduro’s proposition to hold an election is seen by some to be an effort to outmanoeuvre the opposition that is trying to use its control of the legislature to challenge his rule.

Mr Maduro said it would be up to the pro-government constitutional assembly to decide whether or not to back his proposal.

Elections for the opposition-controlled National Assembly are not supposed to take place again until 2020.

Thousands of public employees and Government supporters gather in Caracas Credit: Ariana Cubillos/AP

Earlier on Saturday, an air force general defected from the administration of Mr Maduro and called on his compatriots to participate in protests against the socialist leader’s rule.

General Francisco Yanez is the first high ranking officer to leave Mr Maduro’s government since January 23, when Mr Guaido declared himself the country’s legitimate leader.

In a YouTube video, Gen Yanez said: “The transition to democracy is imminent.”

He described Mr Maduro as a dictator and referred to Mr Guaido as his president, but refused to say whether he is still in Venezuela or has left the country.

The officer later confirmed he would not give further statements until given authorisation by “the commander-in-chief of the legal armed force which is President Juan Guaido”.

Many foreign leaders, including US President Donald Trump, have recognised Mr Guaido as interim president but others, including Russia, China and Turkey back Mr Maduro.