President Maduro launches ‘biggest military drills in Venezuela’s history’ as he clings to power and warns the country must prepare to defend itself


EMBATTLED Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has overseen military exercises this weekend in a bid to shore up military support and ward off US meddling.

The 56-year-old has so far retained his grip on power – and says the exercises underway will be the “biggest” and “most important” in the country’s history.

Hundreds of Venezuelan troops gather to cheer as President Maduro watches on

Yesterday he visited a military drill in Fort Guaicaipuro, Miranda State, in a bid to demonstrate to rivals that he retains control over the military.

He was pictured being shown missiles and rockets, before troop movements were outlined to him by an officer and he gave a morale-boosting speech to troops.

More footage posted on his Twitter page showed huge crowds of troops and tanks rumbling across fields.

According to RT, he said the games would become the most important and biggest in Venezuela’s 200-year history.

He added: “We must prepare to defend (Venezuela’s) sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence.”

It comes after Juan Guaido declared himself Venezuela’s interim president before masses of cheering supporters in late January, arguing that under the constitution he should become chief of state because Maduro’s re-election was a sham.

The opposition leader’s open defiance of autocratic Maduro has led to huge divisions within the country, though Maduro still retains the all-important support of the army.

Meanwhile, Venezuelan doctors yesterday also protested at the entrance to a bridge blocked by their nation’s military to demand that humanitarian aid be allowed to enter, as Guaido acknowledged the conflict over the food and medical supplies could lead to clashes.

President Maduro looks through the sights of a powerful rocket launcher
Tanks roll across a dusty plain during the drills
Maduro has retained the support of the military in order to cling to power
He claims the drills will prove to be the most important in the country’s history

Carrying a giant Venezuelan flag, about two dozen doctors in white coats called on the military to remove a tanker and two cargo containers blocking the Tienditas International Bridge where humanitarian aid provided by the US is being stored.

The doctors protested on the Colombia side of the border, saying they would face repercussions for holding a similar demonstration on the Venezuelan side.

Dr. Katia Diaz, a psychiatrist, said that each day aid sits waiting for transport into Venezuela represents one more day in which patient lives are at risk.

She said: “Those containers represent the arrogance of a dictator. It lays bare the lack of humanity, of compassion for the pain of our people.”

Guaido, the leader of the National Assembly who four dozen nations are recognising as Venezuela’s rightful president, urged the military to think carefully about how they will proceed.

Attending a church service Sunday with his family, he recognised that the feud between those who do and do not want the aid to be let in could lead to clashes.

He told the military: “It depends on you. We’re not talking between the lines. We’re talking clearly and decisively, giving an order to the armed forces: To allow the aid in.”

President Maduro has vowed not to let the supplies pass, saying Venezuela isn’t a nation of beggars.

He contends the food, hygiene kits and emergency medical gear are part of a larger ploy by the US to remove him from power.

The US provided the aid and the Colombian government helped ensure its transport to the border, but the opposition is charged with handling the aid’s distribution within Venezuela.

Maduro inspects a missile during the drills
The Venezuelan strongman has refused to cede power
AFP or licensors
As long as he retains the backing of the military, Maduro is expected to remain in control of the country
AFP or licensors
Here he is pictured being shown war drill plans
Maduro speaks to the crowd of troops during his visit
AFP or licensors
Most of the international community no longer considers Maduro the country’s rightful leader
He does, however, retain the support of the Russians and Chinese

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