All eyes were on Juan Guaido's next step after the popular Venezuelan opposition leader declared he was temporarily assuming presidential powers in a high-stakes bid to unseat Nicolas Maduro, whose powerful loyalists went on the offensive Thursday in support of the embattled leader. If Maduro remains in power, the security of the remaining USA diplomats is uncertain.
Maduro has also called home all Venezuelan diplomats from the USA and closed its embassy in Washington Thursday.
Nonessential staff was ordered to leave the country for security reasons, according to the Los Angeles Times, with many taking their families to the airport to depart Friday.
Washington's decision to throw its weight behind Guaido, a virtual unknown in Venezuelan politics until recently, came only after it became convinced that the 35-year-old with a U.S. education was a democratic-minded leader they could trust and work with, USA officials said.
"To the government of Mexico and Uruguay I publicly say: I agree with a diplomatic initiative for national dialogue in Venezuela", said Maduro. "You must fulfil my order from the government of Venezuela".
Mr Maduro started a second term on January 10 following a widely boycotted election a year ago that many foreign governments described as a sham.
Several former military leaders who remain in close contact with active troops said that for Guaido to even have a chance of winning over support from sectors of the military, he'd have to continue to galvanize the public and prove to skeptical military officers with much to lose that his promise of granting amnesty to those who promote change is honest.
Trump bluntly warned Maduro that "all options are on the table" if there is not a peaceful transition to democracy in the South American country.
French President Emmanuel Macron called Venezuela's elections "illegitimate" in a tweet on Thursday, and saluted the bravery of Venezuelans demanding freedom.
Rudy Giuliani Walks Back Startling Moscow Claim
After the report was released Thursday, Mueller spokesman Peter Carr issued a statement disputing the story. This was the second time within the past week that Giuliani has walked back comments from the previous day.
Maduro has been increasingly accused of undemocratic behaviour by his opponents and has presided over skyrocketing inflation, a collapsing economy and widespread shortages of basic goods. Maduro visited Moscow in December, seeking Russia's political and financial support.
However Venezuelan Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino said via Twitter that the country's armed forces disavowed any president who was self-proclaimed or imposed by "dark interests". Venezuela owes more than $20 billion.
Guaido, who has galvanized the country's opposition, proclaimed himself interim president on Wednesday. "But we are living in a dictatorship", Guaido said from an undisclosed location.
In a November speech in Miami, home to large numbers of immigrants from Cuba and Venezuela, Bolton pledged that the United States would crack down on what he called "the troika of tyranny" in the Western Hemisphere, naming Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
The European Union called for free elections to restore democracy.
It has also provided military support.
In a video addressing the military earlier this week, Guiado said the constitution requires them to disavow Maduro after his May 2018 re-election, which was widely condemned by the worldwide community because his main opponents were banned from running.
Protesters clashed with security forces on Wednesday night around the country and in both affluent and working class areas of Caracas, with some demonstrations spilling over into looting.
Countries from across the globe then risk being drawn into the conflict.