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Violence in Venezuela as president's rival declares himself leader

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.

The move has sparked violence in the South American country and at least seven people have been killed in clashes between supporters of the two sides.

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

A van is set on fire by Venezuelan opposition demonstrators
Image: Anti-government protesters set a vehicle on fire in Caracas

An opposition demonstrator runs with a tear gas canister
Image: Police fired tear gas at protesters in the Venezuelan capital

A woman waves a Venezuelan flag as people pass under the bridge
Image: People cheered on anti-government demonstrators in Caracas

Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Colombia, Canada, Peru, Chile, Guatemala, Honduras have followed America’s lead and backed Mr Guaido.

The 35-year-old – the new leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly – announced his move to cheering supporters in the capital, Caracas – two weeks after Mr Maduro was sworn in for a controversial second term.

Juan Guaido told followers they would need the support of all Venezuelans
Image: Juan Guaido told followers they would need the support of all Venezuelans

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro holds a bank note from the new currency Bolivar Soberano (Sovereign Bolivar)
Image: Mr Maduro ordered US diplomats to get out of the country

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

More from Venezuela

“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.”

US vice president Mike Pence addresses the people of Venezuela
Hola, I'm Mike Pence

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, Russia and Turkey have all sided with Mr Maduro.

The head of Venezuela's Constituent Assembly and right-hand man of President Nicolas Maduro, Diosdado Cabello, speaks to a crowd of government supporters
Image: Right-hand man of President Maduro, Diosdado Cabello, says his side will fight on

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.

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