Russian mercenaries reportedly in Venezuela to protect Maduro

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks to a crowd of supporters flanked by his wife Cilia Flores and Vice President Delcy Rodriguez

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks to a crowd of supporters flanked by his wife Cilia Flores and Vice President Delcy Rodriguez

Venezuela - once one of South america's richest countries - has descended into poverty and chaos under Maduro.

"The United States maintains diplomatic relations with Venezuela and will conduct our relations with Venezuela through the government of interim President Guaido, who has invited our mission to remain in Venezuela", Pompeo said in a statement.

Washington recognised Juan Guaido as the country's interim president earlier this week, angering Mr Maduro who has retaliated by threatening to expel United States diplomats from the country.

Playing a key role behind the scenes was Lima Group member Canada, whose Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to Guaido the night before Maduro's searing-in ceremony to offer her government's support should he confront the socialist leader, the Canadian official said. That prompted Maduro to sever relations with Washington. The dictator is still recognized as Venezuela's president by the nations of Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Turkey.

More than 20 national guardsmen broke with Maduro on Monday, seized an arsenal and declared themselves in rebellion, but were quelled by other units.

Colombian President Ivan Duque, another U.S. ally also at Davos, told reporters his country was behind Guaido and will "accompany this process of transition to democracy so that the Venezuelan people free themselves of their dictatorship".

The 35-year-old Guaido has energised the opposition with a campaign to declare Maduro a usurper after elections last year widely regarded as fraudulent.

Maduro told Putin his assessment of the situation in Venezuela and thanked the Russian leader for his stance.

Representing Vargas for Popular Will, Guaido assumed the parliament's leadership as part of a power-sharing agreement between Venezuela's main opposition parties.

Guaido declared himself interim president on Wednesday, winning support from U.S. President Donald Trump and some Latin American countries.

The United States is not a member but supports the group.

Earlier, Trump said, "The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law". He said the armed forces will never accept a leader forced on their country.

"We call on appropriate Venezuelan authorities to immediately implement the critical economic and political reforms necessary to end the hyperinflation, supply shortages, and corruption at the heart of this crisis", the State Department said on Thursday.

"(Simon) Bolivar used to curse against soldiers who give their back to the people", Guaido said, referring to Venezuela's independence hero. "But we are living in a dictatorship", Guaido said from an undisclosed location.

But others stand by Maduro and support the expulsion of American diplomats announced Tuesday.

In a video addressing the military earlier this week, Guiado said the constitution requires them to disavow Maduro after his May 2018 re-election, which was widely condemned by the global community because his main opponents were banned from running.

"I am the only president of Venezuela", Maduro said.

Amid deadly political clashes in the crisis-torn country, the State Department said that USA citizens "should strongly consider departing Venezuela".

"They did not arrive in a big crowd", he said.

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