Venezuela's ambassador to Iraq defects, declares support for Guaido
Venezuela's ambassador to Iraq, Jonathan Velasco Ramirez, announced he is backing his country's opposition leader Juan Guaido in a video posted on social media on Saturday, making him the first high-ranking diplomat to defect.
Ramirez declared his support for National Assembly head Guaido and renounced the sitting president Nicolas Maduro.
"The National Assembly is the only power of the Republic which has ethics, legitimacy and legality," Ramirez said, as he read his statement in the video.
While Ramirez is the first senior Venezuelan diplomat to defect, earlier on Saturday, air force General Francisco Yanez also announced on a social media video that he disavowed Maduro's "dictatorial" authority and recognised Guaido as the acting president.
The air force high command strategic planning director said "90 percent of the armed forces don't support the dictator".
Later, in another video, retired Major General Jorge Oropeza, former air force general commander, also said he recognised Guaido as acting president.
US National Security Advisor John Bolton responded to that in a tweet calling on "all military members to follow General (Francisco) Yanez's lead".
The US recognised Guaido as Venezuela's interim president on January 23 while four major European nations - the UK, France, Germany and Spain - have said they will do likewise unless Maduro calls presidential elections by midnight on Sunday.
Among those backing Maduro in the Middle East are Iran, Syria, and Turkey.
The military and security forces have so far been Maduro's main pillar of support, but there have been signs of unrest in the ranks.
On 21 January, a group of 27 soldiers rose up against Maduro in Caracas, although that was quickly suppressed.
It helped spark a week of protests in which 40 people were killed in clashes with security forces, with hundreds more arrested.
The challenge to Maduro is his most serious yet, with the United States leading the campaign to drive him from office.
Guaido moved to expand his international support by reassuring China - Venezuela's main creditor and a long-time ally of the socialist regime - that he would honour bilateral agreements if successful in ousting Maduro.
China, like Russia, has denounced outside interference in Venezuela.
Guaido told the South China Morning Post he would not disrupt the relationship with China despite his close ties to Washington.
"China's support will be very important in boosting our country's economy and future development," he said in an email interview.
China's foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said cooperation between the countries would continue "no matter how the situation changes" in Venezuela.
Agencies contributed to this report.
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