Caracas: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday directed his country`s diplomats in the US to leave that country and ordered the embassy and consulates there closed, also reiterating that US diplomatic personnel must leave the South American nation within 72 hours.
Maduro issued his order before the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ), where magistrates and representatives of other government branches declared their support for him after the head of the opposition-controlled Parliament, Juan Guaido, proclaimed himself to be Venezuela`s interim president and received Washington`s immediate support.
"I have decided to return all personnel, diplomatic and consular, of our country abroad and close the embassy and all the consulates in the United States," the president said, Efe reported.
Maduro reiterated that on Wednesday he made the decision to break diplomatic and political relations "with the imperialist government of Donald Trump, and to expel all his diplomatic personnel and (other) personnel" from Venezuela within 72 hours.
Guaido rejected Maduro`s decision and asked all foreign embassies to keep their doors open with the subsequent response from Washington that, since it no longer recognizes the Chavista leader as head of state, it will not comply with his directives.
The US government, in response, on Thursday ordered the evacuation of all its non-essential personnel in Venezuela after Maduro gave them 72 hours to leave the country.
In a security alert, the Department of State also recommended to Americans living or travelling in Venezuela to "seriously" consider leaving the country.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday asked security forces to protect the "personal integrity" of the self-proclaimed Venezuelan president and announced $20 million in US humanitarian aid for the Venezuelan "people."
Pompeo spoke before the Washington-based Organization of American States at a special meeting convened by the OAS to discuss the situation in Venezuela.
Pompeo also urged the other OAS members to recognize Guaido as Venezuela`s "legitimate" president and called for a regional meeting of foreign ministers of the countries of the Western Hemisphere to decide what to do regarding Venezuela.
The top US diplomat urged all OAS members to rebuke Maduro`s "now-defunct" and "criminally-incompetent" government, saying that "each of us must live up to our calling to promote and defend democracy" in Venezuela.
In Caracas, however, regional commanders of Venezuela`s armed forces appeared on state television Thursday to express their support for Maduro.
"We are a democratic country where the president is elected only by the people, and the people is the sovereign making decisions on our homeland`s destiny," Maj. Gen. Manuel Bernal Martinez, head of the Andean military district, said.
"The people of Venezuela, through their exercise of the free and secret ballot, elected citizen Nicolas Maduro Moros as president," he said, accompanied in the video clip by other officers.
Similar messages were conveyed in subsequent clips featuring Gen. Victor Palacio Garcia, commander of the Los Llanos defence region, and Gen. Domingo Hernandez Lares, commander of the Central region.
Venezuela`s defence minister said Thursday, that an attempted coup was under way in the South American country.
"I warn the Venezuelan people that a coup is being carried out against our democracy`s institutionality, against our constitution, against President Nicolas Maduro, the legitimate president," Vladimir Padrino told reporters in the company of other senior military officials.
Padrino read a statement on behalf of Venezuela`s armed forces in which he expressed his loyalty to the leftist Maduro as head of state and said he "will never accept an imposed president."
The defence minister said "unhinged elements" among Venezuela`s opposition, backed by outside forces, were behind the bid to create a de facto government, which he vowed "will not be victorious."
"It`s an extremely serious matter and infringes upon the rule of law, against the peace of all Venezuelans," Padrino said.
The armed forces` support for Maduro is "unfailing and unyielding," said Padrino, who thanked those foreign governments, including Mexico, that have called for resolving Venezuela`s political crisis through dialogue.
The country, meanwhile, was rocked by a third consecutive day of anti-government protests early Thursday, although thousands also took to the streets to show their support for the government amid a diplomatic upheaval that has seen many countries expressing their official recognition and support for both sides in the political tussle.