Clashes rock Venezuela as Juan Guaido and Nicolas Maduro vie for power

Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido is urging people to take to the streets for new mass protests on Wednesday, as the opposition leader and President Nicolas Maduro vie for power.

In a video statement posted on social media Tuesday night, Mr Guaido also called on the military to join with those clamouring for change in Venezuela.

The leader, recognised by more than 50 nations as Venezuela's rightful leader, said socialist Mr Maduro "doesn't have the backing or the respect" of the military.

Mr Guaido called for a military uprising earlier on Tuesday, issuing the most serious challenge yet to Mr Maduro's contested rule.

But only one high-ranking officer and a small group of soldiers have broken publicly with Mr Maduro so far.

An opponent to President Nicolas Maduro covers his face amid tear gas fire. Credit: AP

The president made a defiant TV address to the Venezuelan people on Tuesday evening and declared the opposition had attempted to impose an “illegitimate government” with the support of the US and Colombia.

He said Venezuela had been a victim of “aggression of all kinds”.

Hundreds of government supporters, some of them brandishing firearms, had gathered outside the presidential palace in response to a call to defend Mr Maduro.

The violent street battles that erupted in parts of Caracas on Tuesday were the most serious challenge yet to Mr Maduro’s rule, as supporters of Mr Guaido took to the streets, but the rebellion has only garnered limited military support.

Self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido calls on his supporters to take to the streets on Wednesday. Credit: AP
President Nicolas Maduro addressed the people of Venezuela and said Mr Guaido had failed to turn the military against him. Credit: AP

Mr Guaido sought to keep the momentum going from Tuesday by releasing his own video message in which he pressed Venezuelans to take to the streets again on Wednesday.

Armoured vehicles ploughed into a group of anti-government demonstrators trying to storm the capital's air base on Tuesday, hitting at least two protesters.

Troops loyal to Mr Maduro fired tear gas from inside the adjacent air base.

A crowd that quickly swelled to a few thousand scurried for cover, reappearing later with Mr Guaido at a plaza a few blocks from the disturbances.

President Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to impose an 'illegitimate government'. Credit: AP
Opponents and supporters of President Nicolas Maduro face off during an attempted military uprising on Tuesday. Credit: AP

The stunning events began early Tuesday when Mr Guaido, flanked by a few dozen national guardsmen and some armoured crowd-control vehicles, released the three-minute video shot near the Carlota air base.

In a surprise, Leopoldo Lopez, Mr Guaido’s political mentor and the nation’s most prominent opposition activist, stood alongside him.

Detained in 2014 for leading a previous round of anti-government unrest, Mr Lopez said he had been released from house arrest by security forces adhering to an order from Mr Guaido.

“I want to tell the Venezuelan people: This is the moment to take to the streets and accompany these patriotic soldiers,” Mr Lopez declared.

“It’s now or never,” said one of the young rebellious soldiers, his face covered in the blue bandanna worn by the few dozen insurgent soldiers.

The head of a medical centre near the site of the street battles said doctors were treating 50 people, about half of them with injuries suffered from rubber bullets and at least one person had been shot with live ammunition.

Mr Lopez and his family sought refuge in the Chilean ambassador's residence in Caracus and later moved to the Spanish embassy.

Amid the confusion, Mr Maduro tried to project an image of strength, saying he had spoken to several regional military commanders who reaffirmed their loyalty.

“Nerves of steel!” he said in a message posted on Twitter.

Flanked by top military commanders, Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez condemned Mr Guaido’s move as a “terrorist” act and “coup attempt” that was bound to fail like past uprisings.

However in a possible sign that Mr Maduro’s inner circle could be fracturing, the head of Venezuela’s secret police penned a letter breaking ranks with the embattled leader.

Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, the head of Venezuela’s feared SEBIN intelligence agency, wrote a letter to the Venezuelan people saying that while he has always been loyal to Mr Maduro it is now time to “rebuild the country."