USA orders its embassy staff to leave Venezuela

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday directed his country's diplomats in the USA to leave that country and ordered the embassy and consulates there closed, also reiterating that United States diplomatic personnel must leave the South American nation within 72 hours.

Private military contractors who do secret missions for Russian Federation flew into Venezuela in the past few days to beef up security for President Nicolas Maduro in the face of USA -backed opposition protests, according to two people close to them.

The U.S. military has not been asked to take any actions to evacuate Americans from Venezuela, officials said, as a standoff intensifies between President Nicolás Maduro and the Trump administration. Venezuela's National Assembly head Juan Guaido (right) declares himself the country's "acting president" during a mass opposition rally against Maduro on Wednesday.

The US response, which to some harkened back to dark episodes of heavy-handed US interventions in Latin America during the Cold War, saw Maduro respond by swiftly cutting off diplomatic relations with the US, giving American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country.

Pompeo also urged the other OAS members to recognize Guaido as Venezuela's "legitimate" president and called for a regional meeting of foreign ministers of the countries of the Western Hemisphere to decide what to do regarding Venezuela.

While Canada and others have supported Guaido, Venezuela's top military brass pledged their support for Maduro on Thursday, delivering vows of loyalty before rows of green-uniformed officers on state television.

Maduro still has control of the military in Venezuela, and according to the New York Times, at least 20 people were killed by pro-government forces this week. Maduro reacted by cutting all ties with the USA and ordering American diplomats to leave the country within 72 hours. He also urged troops to let humanitarian aid that the US has pledged to send and which he has approved in his self-designated role as interim president into the country.

Meanwhile, all eyes were on Guaido whose whereabouts have been a mystery since the 35-year-old was symbolically sworn in Wednesday before tens of thousands of cheering supporters, promising to uphold the constitution and rid Venezuela of Maduro's dictatorship.

In total, more than three million Venezuelans have left the country in the past three years.

He was re-elected in 2018 but most of the opposition parties didn't take part so now he's now been challenged by a man called Juan Guaido. "It is more than likely that the Americans will try to transport them to Venezuela through the border with Colombia, but a signal will be required to do that", he said, stressing that hostile acts against USA diplomats could be such a signal.

Guaido has said he needs the backing of three critical groups: The people, the global community and the military.

"They have no authority to carry weapons and to use those weapons outside the Embassy compound", said a former US official who is familiar with the USA presence in Caracas.

Many Venezuelans were looking for Guaido to re-emerge and provide guidance on the opposition's next steps.

There's a political crisis in Venezuela, here's Newsround's guide to what's going on.