Mass protests sweep across Venezuela as President Nicolás Maduro holds on

An anti-government protester in Venezuela. Credit: Rodrigo Abd/AP

Mass street protests designed to push President Nicolás Maduro out of office have swept cities across Venezuela again on Saturday.

The demonstrations are intended to ramp up pressure on President Maduro to call for a snap presidential election.

Recently, an unexpected challenge emerged from the opposition, Juan Guaidó, who shot to fame on 23 January when he declared himself Venezuela’s rightful interim president.

Since then, Guaidó - whose growing coalition of international backers now includes the US, Australia, Brazil, Canada and Colombia - has for many Venezuelans become a desperate symbol of change.

A woman chants anti-government slogans in a walkout against President Nicolas Maduro. Credit: AP

On Saturday, a high-ranking Air Force general announced his support for Mr Guaidó in a video message shared on Twitter.

General Francisco Yanez, the force's head of strategic planning, called on other members of the military to join him in defecting. It is not clear when or where the message was recorded.

The general is the first high ranking officer to leave Mr Maduro’s government since January 23, when National Assembly President Juan Guaido declared himself the country’s legitimate leader.

In the video, Gen Yanez said: "The transition to democracy is imminent."

An anti-government protester in Venezuela. Credit: AP

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".

Maduro has described the protests as part of a U.S.-led coup attempt and called on his supporters to organize their own march on Saturday in defense of his Bolivarian Revolution.

"Our struggle for self-determination has deep roots in the historic independence battles waged by our Liberators. From them comes strength, with which we defend the Sovereignty and the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela," Maduro tweeted.