We must prepare to defend Venezuela's sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence
Mr Maduro, 56, has faced calls to step aside in favour of 35-year-old political rival Juan Guaido, with US President Donald Trump turning the screw as he backed younger man who took a public oath to serve as interim president of the South American country on January 23. Since receiving Mr Trump’s support, Mr Guaido’s authority has been recognised by 50 countries, including many neighbouring nations as well as the European Union. But Mr Maduro, who has served as President since 2013, and who was controversially reelected last year amid widespread claims of voter fraud, said the nation “must prepare to defend its sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence” as he declared a round of military exercises at Guaicaipuro Fort in Miranda State.
He posted pictures on Twitter showing large crowds of men wearing military fatigues, as well as others showing him inspecting weapons against a backdrop of cheering soldiers.
Venezuela's military announced it had started conducting exercises to “reinforce the country's defensive capacity”.
Mr Maduro described the drills, which are scheduled to finish on Friday, as the “most important' in the country's history and would become the largest it had ever held.
Venezuela has been in turmoil for for several years, with rocketing inflation rendering its currency, the Bolivar, practically worthless.
Nicolas Maduro inspects weapons during the military drill (Image: REUTERS)
The UN estimates there will be 5.3 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants by the end of 2019.
Mr Maduro has rejected humanitarian aid as a US ploy to intervene in Venezuela, and the authorities have consequently blocked humanitarian aid from entering the country from neighbouring Colombia, a move Mr Guaido has described as “a crime against humanity”.
He added: “There are