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Venezuela’s opposition leader courts Maduro’s international allies after ‘clandestine meetings’ with military

Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido has reportedly reached out to disputed President Nicolas Maduro’s staunchest supporters – Russia and China – to convince them to switch sides.

The 35-year-old lawmaker revealed Thursday that he has sent communications to both powers, arguing that their interests would be best served by switching which side they support in the ongoing political crisis in Venezuela.

Russia and China are the country’s top foreign creditors and support Maduro despite worries about the cash-strapped country’s ability to pay.

“What most suits Russia and China is the country’s stability and a change of government,” Guaido told Reuters. “Maduro does not protect Venezuela, he doesn’t protect anyone’s investments, and he is not a good deal for those countries.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing that they are “maintaining close communication with all parties through various means regarding the situation in Venezuela.”

“We believe that no matter how the situation develops or changes, cooperation between China and Venezuela will not be damaged,” he added.

Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that Moscow has not yet received any communication from Guaido.

“We have not received any messages yet. If or when we receive it, we will review it,” he told reporters, according to the Moscow Times.

He also denied any Russian involvement in the sale of Venezuelan gold – a statement that comes after a Boeing 777 belonging to Russia’s Nordwind Airlines arrived to Caracas’ international airport Monday night sparking unproven claims that Maduro’s administration is looking to whisk what’s left of the nation’s depleted gold reserves out of the country.

Guaido, who declared himself Venezuela’s interim head of state last week, has said he needs the backing of three critical groups – the people, the international community and the military – to oust Maduro. He had received the support from more than a dozen mostly western nations led by the United States, who have recognized him as Venezuela’s legitimate interim leader.

These countries argue Maduro stole his second-term election by banning most of his most opponents from running.

Meanwhile, Guaido revealed to have held “clandestine meetings” with members of the Venezuelan military – the traditional arbiter of political disputes in the country. He wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times that he has offered amnesty to “all those who are not found guilty of crimes against humanity.”

Venezuela’s top military representative to the U.S., Col. Jose Luis Silva, has defected, but senior military figures in the country have pledged their unwavering support of Maduro.

Maduro, who has been crisscrossing Venezuela overseeing military exercises and vowing to defend his socialist government no matter the cost, is growing increasingly isolated as more nations back Guaido. He has described Guaido’s challenge as a “vile” coup attempt and still has control of most of the Venezuelan government, including its cash cow, the state-owned oil company.

Earlier this week, the United States announced sanctions that will bar Venezuelan oil importsand could cost the Maduro administration up to $11 billion over the next year.

Guaido’s claim to the Venezuelan presidency has been backed by protests in which at least 35 people have been killed and more than 900 have been arrested, according to human rights groups.

On Tuesday, the government-stacked Supreme Court barred Guaido from leaving the countryand froze his bank accounts as a probe into his anti-government activities led by Maduro-ally and chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab advances.

He has avoided arrest, however, warned officers from a feared state security unit Thursday to stay away from his family.

Guaido accused them of showing up at his apartment in a middle-class neighborhood of Caracas while his 20-month-old daughter was inside.

“I hold you responsible for anything that might happen to my baby,” he told a crowd gathered at a university.

In a statement on Twitter, Venezuela’s police denied that special agents had gone to Guaido’s home, dismissing the claim as “totally FALSE.”

The opposition has urged Venezuelans to take to the streets again Saturday for a mass protest demanding that humanitarian aid enter the country, something the Maduro government has regularly refused, denying that a crisis is underway.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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