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US President Donald Trump has recognized Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president in a provocative move against the elected government of Nicolas Maduro.

“Today, I am officially recognizing the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela,” Trump said in statement.

He called the Maduro government “illegitimate” and “directly responsible for any threats” posed to the Venezuelan people.

He added he would use “the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy” and encouraged other governments in the Western Hemisphere to also recognize Guaido.

In a tweet, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Guaido’s decision to declare himself interim president was “courageous” and said the US would support his efforts to “establish a transitional government” and prepare for “free and fair” elections.

US-backed Guaido, who is currently the President of the National Assembly, swore an oath and declared himself interim president on Monday as thousands took to the streets calling for Maduro to leave office.

Trump has steadily expanded economic sanctions against Venezuela in recent months while declaring steadfast support for the Venezuelan people. The sanctions have been heavily criticized by many analysts who say that the Venezuelan people are the ones who sanctions will hurt most.

Earlier this week, Maduro had called for a revision of Venezuela’s diplomatic relations with the US after Vice President Mike Pence openly called for regime change in the struggling country.

Maduro said the US was shamelessly interfering in his country’s domestic affairs and rejected its “imperialist interventionism” which he said promoted “instability and violence.

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