Maduro supporters gather in Caracas

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The latest on the political crisis in Venezuela (all times local):

Thousands of public employees and government supporters have begun to concentrate on Caracas’ downtown Bolivar Avenue.

Some danced to popular songs, while a banner included a large photo of late President Hugo Chavez and read: “20 years of popular victories.”

The socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro called the rally to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Chavez’s rise to power.

Meanwhile, thousands of anti-government protesters are carrying Venezuelan flags and descending on the eastern part of the city.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido has proclaimed himself interim president of Venezuela and called for demonstrations to increase pressure on Maduro to resign.


10:30 a.m.

Hundreds of Venezuelans gathered in downtown Barcelona, Spain, on Saturday to express their support for Juan Guaido, who declared himself interim president of Venezuela last week.

The gathering was one of several expected around the world to coincide with a rally planned by Guaido in Venezuela.

The defiant socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro has called on its own loyalists to flood the streets waving flags to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Bolivarian revolution launched by the late Hugo Chavez.

Nancy San Juan, a 78-year-old yoga teacher, says: “This is the end. It’s imminent. How is it going to end? We don’t know. We don’t know because this man (Maduro) doesn’t want to leave and is very defiant.”

Spain’s National Institute of Statistics says the number of people born in Venezuela who live in Spain jumped from 165,000 in 2015 to 255,000 last year.


9:30 a.m.

A Venezuelan air force general defected from the administration of President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday and called on his compatriots to participate in protests against the socialist leader’s rule.

Gen. Francisco Yanez is the first high ranking officer to leave Maduro’s government since Jan. 23, when National Assembly President Juan Guaido declared himself the country’s legitimate leader.

In a YouTube video, Yanez said: “The transition to democracy is imminent.” He described Maduro as a dictator and referred to Guaido as his president, but refused to say whether he is still in Venezuela or has left the country.

In a brief phone conversation with The Associated Press, the officer confirmed, from a Colombian number, the veracity of his declaration and said he would not give further statements until given authorization by “the commander-in-chief of the legal armed force which is President Juan Guaido.”

In the video, Yanez claimed that “90 percent” of the country’s armed forces are against Maduro.