Caracas, Jan 29 (AFP) Venezuela’s self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido said Monday he was taking control of the country’s foreign assets as he piled pressure on leader Nicolas Maduro by calling for a new wave of protests against the embattled regime.Also Read - Sports Minister Anurag Thakur Lavishes Praise On Indian Archery Team

Guaido, the opposition leader who has declared himself the country’s ruler amid violent anti-government protests, says “usurper” Maduro’s rule is illegitimate and wants to set up a transitional government ahead of new elections. Also Read - IPL 2022: Rashid Khan Comes Up With A Rib-Tickling Response To Gujarat Titans' Query

In a statement published on social media, he said he was “beginning to take progressive and orderly control of our republic’s assets abroad to prevent, during his exit… that the usurper and his band try to empty the coffers.” Guaido also called for a two-hour strike Wednesday “to demand that the armed forces side with the people,” ahead of a “big national and international rally” on Saturday to acknowledge support from several European countries that have issued Maduro a deadline to hold new polls. Also Read - Major: Para-Military Officer Gets Emotional After Watching Adivi Sesh in Sandeep Unnikrishnan's Biopic - Viral Video

His remarks came as the death toll in last week’s protests rose to 35, according to NGO workers, with the government security forces accused of killing another eight in “extra-judicial executions.” Pope Francis said Monday following a trip to Panama that he was afraid the escalating political crisis in Venezuela would descend into “a bloodbath.” The White House meanwhile urged Venezuela’s military to accept a “peaceful, democratic and constitutional transfer of power.” National Security Advisor John Bolton told reporters in Washington President Donald Trump was leaving “all options… on the table” when it came to considering getting the US military involved in the crisis.

Maduro, 56, has so far refused to budge, telling Turkish television station CNN Turk: “No one can give us an ultimatum.” Millions of Venezuelans have been left in poverty or fled the country due to an economic crisis, marked by hyperinflation and shortages of basic necessities, which began in 2014.

Maduro devalued the currency by 35 per cent on Monday, aligning it with the exchange rate for the dollar on the black market, but analysts said it would only “make things worse.” Guaido, the 35-year-old head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, says the election Maduro won in May wasn’t fair as it was boycotted by the opposition, while many in the international community branded it a fraud.

Last Wednesday Guaido launched a power struggle with Maduro by declaring himself “acting president.” He has the been recognized as Venezuela’s interim president by the United States and a dozen Latin American countries while Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands said they would follow suit unless Maduro calls elections by February 3.

The EU has so far held back from joining the ultimatum, saying it would take “further actions” if elections were not called in the coming days, including the issue of recognition of the country’s “leadership.” Russia, China, Turkey and leftist regional allies Cuba, Bolivia and Mexico continue to back Maduro. (AFP) RCJ 01290250

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.