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Trump Recognizes New Leadership in Venezuela As Protests Continue

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Venezuela's National Assembly head Juan Guaido waves to the crowd during a mass opposition rally Wednesday against leader Nicolas Maduro. Guaido later declared himself the country's "acting president." FEDERICO PARRA AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump is officially recognizing Juan Guaidó, the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the interim leader of Venezuela Wednesday, where violent protests are underway.

Guaidó is the young leader of the National Assembly, an elected government body President Nicolás Maduro doesn’t recognize. Since assuming this position on Jan. 5, Guaidó has pushed for the military to abandon Maduro, promising amnesty for those who lay down their weapons.

Maduro was sworn into office for a second term earlier this month, but the opposition and much of the international community view the elections as a sham. Under Maduro’s leadership, the country has seen increasingly severe economic strife.

Maduro blames the country’s economic downfall on international sanctions, recently increased as a response to his grab for more power, but the much of the public wants new leadership. Thousands took to the streets Tuesday to oust him from office.

Demonstrations in at least 60 working-class neighborhoods Tuesday night left four dead. Those in the southern city of Puerto Ordaz reportedly toppled a statue of the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor.

Protests continued into Wednesday—the 61st anniversary of the fall of a military dictatorship—where government supporters also posed demonstrations against the opposition’s overhaul.

The U.S. has long been against Maduro’s near-dictatorship. Vice President Mike Pence voiced the position in a statement Tuesday, telling opposition protesters, “We will stay with you until Democracy is restored.”

Among the crowds Wednesday, Guaidó enacted a constitutional amendment allowing for the legislator’s head to lead the country until free elections could be held.

“I swear to formally assume the powers of the national executive as interim president of Venezuela to achieve the end of the usurpation,” he told thousands of supporters from a stage in East Caracas, Bloomberg reports.

Trump quickly supported Guaidó’s move.

“The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” he said in a statement. “I will continue to use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy.”

“We encourage other Western Hemisphere governments to recognize National Assembly President Guaido as the Interim President of Venezuela, and we will work constructively with them in support of his efforts to restore constitutional legitimacy,” he continued.