Violence in Venezuela as president's rival declares himself leader

23 January 2019, 17:53 | Updated: 24 January 2019, 13:42

Venezuela's opposition leader has won the support of more countries in his bid to oust the "dictatorship" of President Nicolas Maduro.

Juan Guaido declared himself interim president on Wednesday, saying the constitution gave him powers to form a transitional government until new elections.

It has sparked violence in the South American country and at least seven people have been killed in clashes between government forces and demonstrators.

US President Donald Trump said Mr Guaido had "courageously spoken" against Mr Maduro, who was described this week as a dictator by Vice President Mike Pence.

Britain, Germany, France, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia and Chile are among the countries that have also backed Mr Guaido.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said on the UK supported "the democratically elected National Assembly with Juan Guaido as its president".

France's President Macron tweeted that he "salutes the courage of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans marching for their liberty".

Russia, however, has said Mr Maduro is the legitimate president and attempts to remove him are illegal.

Mr Guaido, 35, the new leader of the assembly, announced his dramatic move to cheering supporters in the capital, Caracas - two weeks after Mr Maduro was sworn in for a controversial second term.

After claiming the presidency, Mr Guaido told the crowds: "We know that this will have consequences.

"To be able to achieve this task and to re-establish the constitution we need the agreement of all Venezuelans."

He pledged to install a transitional government and hold free elections.

"[Guaido] was surrounded by people screaming 'president, president' as he walked through a rallying point," said Stuart Ramsay, Sky's chief correspondent, who is in Venezuela.

"This will end in violence, I can guarantee that, but it has already been violent."

Millions of people have left Venezuela in recent years due to massive inflation and shortages of food and basic medicine.

Many of those forced to stay are going hungry.

Last May's election was boycotted by the opposition and Mr Maduro's strongest opponents were blocked from taking part.

The European Union and the US say the result was fraudulent.

Mr Maduro responded to America's backing of his rival by saying he would cut diplomatic relations - giving US officials 72 hours to leave.

"I've decided to break diplomatic and political relations with the imperialist US government," he declared.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has said the US will now conduct relations through Mr Guaido.

Mexico, Bolivia and Turkey have also sided with Mr Maduro.

At a rally by socialist party supporters on Wednesday, Vice President Diosdado Cabello called for protection for Mr Maduro from what he said was a US conspiracy to remove him from power.

He said: "We are going to stay in the streets, and stay in battle, for now and forever."

Inflation in Venezuela is predicted to hit 10,000,000% this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Patrick Duddy, former US ambassador to Venezuela, told Sky News: "It was bad before - it's dreadful now. Inflation last year was over 1,000,000%.

"Oil production plummeted to below 1.2 million barrels per day, it was above three million barrels per day when Chavez took office.

"It's anticipated that millions more will leave the country this year."

The Venezuelan parliament is not likely to convene until Thursday at the earliest.