The leader of Venezuela's opposition-run National Assembly, Juan Guaido, has said that he could temporarily replace Nicolas Maduro as president.
Guaido said Maduro, who has overseen a severe economic and political crisis since assuming office in 2013, lacked legitimacy and that the country's constitution permitted the head of the legislature to fill in a presidential vacancy.
Maduro effectively replaced the National Assembly in 2017 by creating a rival Constituent Assembly that he filled with loyal supporters.
The opposition leader's remarks came a day after Maduro was sworn in for a second presidential term following his controversial electoral win last year. The opposition boycotted the vote, which the United States, European Union and Organization of American States dismissed as fraudulent.
'Guaido for president!'
More than a thousand people gathered in front of the United Nations mission in the capital of Caracas to hear the opposition leader speak. "Guaido for president!" the crowd chanted. "Out with Maduro!"
The 35-year-old told supporters that in addition to the constitutional mandate, he would need the backing of citizens, the armed forces and the international community.
The opposition is considering offering legal incentives to military officers who disavow Maduro and help lead a transition to a new government, Reuters news agency reported.
Although the proposed incentives would almost certainly be rejected by the pro-Maduro Supreme Court, rendering their impact symbolic, they would signify an opposition that is ready to court the armed forces, an institution that has long sided with Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.
Opposition 'mocks' the people
The Venezuelan president dismissed Guiado's pronouncement and reaffirmed his commitment to stay in power through the end of his term in 2025.
"There they are with their show, their game, the mockery they make of their own people, here we are with our work," Maduro said. "We have a lot of work to do, and I will continue to carry out my functions, for which you have chosen me, with strength, with bravery."
The 56-year-old president said the opposition was seeking to destabilize his government, and accused Guaido of leading protests in Caracas in 2017 that left around a hundred people dead.
Opposition leaders are also hoping to mobilize the country and have called for mass protests on January 23. The date marks the anniversary of a 1958 coup that deposed the military dictatorship of Marcos Perez Jimenez and ushered in Venezuela's democratic period.
jcg/amp (Reuters, EFE, AFP, AP)