CARACAS, Venezuela — The Venezuelan opposition leader who has declared himself interim president appeared in public Friday for the first time in days and vowed to remain on the streets to usher in a transitional government.

Meanwhile, President Nicolas Maduro dug in and accused his opponents of orchestrating a coup.

In one of the dueling news conferences, Juan Guaido urged thousands of supporters gathered in a Caracas plaza to hold a mass protest again next week as he moves forward with proposals of amnesty for military leaders and the arrival of humanitarian aid.

Maduro spoke at the same time before a room of journalists and decried what he called a coup against his government.

Each man appeared ready to defend his claim to the presidency no matter the cost, with Guaido telling his followers that if he is arrested then they should “stay the course” and peacefully protest for change.

“As the famous phrase goes, ‘You can cut the flower but you cannot keep spring from coming,”‘ Guaido said.

The troubled South American nation plunged into a new chapter of political turmoil this week after tens of thousands of Venezuelans frustrated with their nation’s crippling economic and humanitarian crisis took to the streets demanding Maduro step down in a rally of support for Guaido as he took a symbolic oath to become the interim president.

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet’s office said Friday that it had credible reports that security forces or members of pro-government armed groups had shot at least 20 people during protests Tuesday and Wednesday. It called for an investigation into the violence.

The nonprofit Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict has said gunfire during protests and looting left 21 dead between Wednesday and early Thursday.

The Trump administration quickly recognized Guaido, and a defiant Maduro announced he was breaking ties with the United States hours later, accusing the American leader of meddling in Venezuela’s affairs.

Some U.S. diplomats began exiting Venezuela on Friday. Maduro has also called home all Venezuelan diplomats from the U.S. and closed its embassy in Washington on Thursday.


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