Pope Says Vatican Open to Mediating in Venezuela if Both Sides Ask

Pope Says Vatican Open to Mediating in Venezuela if Both Sides Ask

"I anticipate having perhaps a dozen locations all around Venezuela where such aid will be staged", the official said.

Maduro, though, said humanitarian aid would be the forerunner of a US-led invasion, insisting that "no one will enter, not one invading soldier".

"We believe that Juan Guaidó, President of the National Assembly, as interim president of Venezuela, will schedule free, fair and democratic presidential elections in accordance with the constitution". Maduro's adversaries have warned that Venezuelan officials are seeking to drain state coffers ahead of a potential change of government.

"The people will never surrender", the embattled Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has declared as he condemned what he called the "cowardly" and "disastrous" move by Britain and other European countries to recognise his opponent Juan Guaidó as interim president.

Venezuela has been under political turmoil since January 10 after Maduro was sworn-in for a second six-year term as the President, prompting protests by the country " s Opposition.

European Union member states had indicated that if no new elections are announced, they would take action within the next few days, including on the issue of recognition of the country's leadership in accordance with Article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution.

Guaido said humanitarian aid will begin flowing into the South American country despite Maduro's objections.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland branded the Maduro government a dictatorship that has shown an inexcusable disregard for the rule of law and human rights.

Maduro, 56, has repeatedly accused the United States of fomenting a coup.

This weekend he plans to oversee a deliberate provocation of the military by ordering in supplies of humanitarian aid.

Guaido says the emergency shipment is a "test" for Venezuela's armed forces, which will have to choose if they allow the much needed aid to pass, or if they instead obey orders.

On Saturday, an air force general defected to the opposition and reportedly fled to neighbouring Colombia, and posted a video on YouTube declaring that his country's transition to democracy was "imminent".

Maduro said in a statement that he sent the letter to Pope Frances, explaining that he is deeply Christian in both prayer and action.

Venezuela, he says, is suffering "the largest hemispheric humanitarian crisis in modern history" marked by hyperinflation, recession and shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine. Taking a jibe at the US President, he said: "So we have to go through a war to reconsider our relationship and our respect?"

Guaido branded Maduro illegitimate over his reelection in May, which the opposition boycotted after several of its leaders were either jailed, barred or forced into exile. Local NGO Foro Penal said nearly 1,000 people were detained between January 21 and 31.

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