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Thousands in Venezuela participate in protests against Maduro

CARACAS, Venezuela – Thousands of Venezuelans, many draped under the flag of their country, took to the streets on Wednesday to answer the opposition's call for a nationwide protest to force President Nicolás Maduro out of office.

"Freedom, freedom!" A group sang in Caracas, the capital.

"Today I'm not afraid," said Marta López, a 46-year-old executive director, adding that the country's economic crisis has become unbearable. "Today we must all save ourselves to save our homeland."

The demonstration is part of a renewed thrust by the Venezuelan opposition, which remained largely powerless and was defeated by security forces following an outbreak of anti-government activism in 2017. The opposition hopes that a significant turnout on Wednesday will help persuade the nation's military to break with the president.

Numerous demonstrations against the government broke out overnight. Opposition leaders say that the efforts to oust Mr Maduro, who was sworn in for a second term on 10 January, are now better off because his government is collapsing under the weight of an economic crisis and more isolated than ever.

The United States and many Venezuelan neighbors have called the president an illegitimate dictator and strongly signaled support for a plan to create a transitional government.

"What we are experiencing is a unique historical moment we have been preparing for. I have fought for it for the past 20 years," said opposition leader María Corina Machado on Tuesday. "Obviously, this is the moment of greatest danger for all Venezuelans and the moment of greatest responsibility for those of us who know what it's about."

Mr. Maduro and his allies demanded rival demonstrations on Wednesday, accusing opposition leaders he calls "terrorists" of selling Venezuela to the United States.

"The imperialists and the oligarchs want to govern Venezuela directly." Mr. Maduro told the supporters on Tuesday evening, "Will we give up Venezuela's sovereignty?"

Maduro will probably find it more difficult to resist this challenge of his legitimacy than he has done it in the past, opposition leaders and analysts say.

Eva Golinger, an American lawyer, was a close friend of the left Strongman Hugo Chávez, mentor and predecessor to Mr Maduro, said the government could no longer count on its traditional bastions of support for overpowering the opposition movements formerly led by wealthy and bourgeois Venezuelans.

"The difference is that dissatisfaction is not just opposition," said Ms. Golinger, who wrote a memoir called "Confidante of & tyrants" about her relations with Venezuelans and other leaders. "In fact, it is the poor, in particular, who are fed up with giving up basic products and earning decent wages."

One of the notable differences is the youth of the politicians, who now want to topple the search for Mr. Maduro and the careful news 19659019] The new opposition leader Juan Guaidó, Juan Guaidó, is a 35-year-old industrial engineer, who was little known at home or abroad until this month. At that time he was sworn in as President of the United Nations National Assembly. His appointment enlivened the opposition-dominated legislative body, which had become ineffective and unpopular in recent years.

"People lost faith," said Maria Amelia da Silva, 54, at an outdoor meeting in the City Hall style. Over the past few days, opposition legislators have gathered to push their plan forward. "Then a leader appeared, and this new leader became our greatest hope."

Mr. Guaidó says he is ready to lead an interim government that distributes humanitarian aid, take steps to turn the economy and convene free and fair elections. He argued that this would not violate the Constitution because Mr. Maduro, whose re-election was punished last year as manipulated, "usurped" the presidency.

The protests of the past were rage and outrage, but Mr. Guaidó and his allies tried to strike a hopeful, conciliatory tone. They have made great efforts to urge members of the military to turn their backs on Mr Maduro, arguing that this would not be a coup d'état, but the adherence to their oath to uphold the Constitution.

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