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Denouncing US, Venezuelan troops, militias stage drills

Venezuela's armed forces and civilian militias took the streets in cities, beaches and border regions on Saturday for drills ordered by President Nicolás Maduro, amid tensions between Washington and Caracas.

Despite the maneuvers, there are no indications that the U.S. plans any military intervention in Venezuela. Washington has focused on political and diplomatic pressure in its efforts to oust Maduro, only saying last year that it had not ruled out a military option.

Maduro called for the exercises as he comes under pressure from the U.S. and dozens of other nations backing a year-long campaign by opposition leader Juan Guaidó to force the leader from power.

Members of the Bolivarian National Militia arrive to take part in an invasion drill at the 23 de Enero neighborhood in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro ordered two days of nationwide military exercises, with the participation of civilian militias. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

Residents in a pro-Maduro slum in Caracas participated in the exercises. They included a growing number of civilian militia members recruited by a cash-starved government that is struggling to keep Venezuela's shattered economy afloat.

“I answered the call to help prepare for our defense because my country, my homeland, is under threat from the U.S. empire,” said militia member Pablo Antonio Reyes, a 63-year-old electronics technician.

Militiamen and government supporters dressed in red shirts held combat drills on streets blocked off by city buses. They evacuated residents from buildings as tires burned on rooftops to simulate fires from attacks.

A member of a pro-government group takes part in an invasion drill at the 23 de Enero neighborhood in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro ordered two days of nationwide military exercises, including the participation of civilian militias. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

"The purpose of this exercise is to keep us prepared," said militia member Carmen Ferrer, 50.

Maduro said that the two-day maneuvers were aimed at fending off “terrorist aggression” by Washington and its allies in the region including neighboring Colombia.

The Venezuelan military, which has received Russian support, deployed missile launchers, anti-aircraft batteries and radars in the streets. The government seeks to boost militia ranks, filled out by the old and young, housewives and students.

A couple drives past a member of the pro-government militias taking part in a foreign invasion drill in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro ordered two days of nationwide military exercises, including the participation of civilian militias. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

Guaidó, who launched a campaign a year ago to end two decades of socialist rule, on Saturday call on the armed forces to abandon Maduro’s failed leadership and help him reconstruct a new Venezuela. His previous appeals to the military to change sides have fallen short.

“We are with you,” he said, lamenting the condition of what he called “malnourished soldiers" in Venezuela's once-proud military. A relatively small number of Venezuelan troops have defected in the past year.

Guaidó spoke a day after Maduro threatened the opposition leader with jail.

People peer from a window as soldiers take position during an invasion drill in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro ordered two days of nationwide military exercises, including the participation of civilian militias. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

“The truth is that the risk is not only for Juan Guaidó,” the opposition leader said of himself, noting a list of jailed politicians and political allies. “But for everyone.”

Guaido this week returned from a three-week international tour aimed at increasing support for overthrowing Maduro. At a White House meeting, President Donald Trump reaffirmed his support for Guaidó, calling him Venezuela’s legitimate president and Maduro a “tyrant.”

In Caracas, Guaidó supporter María Blanco scoffed at the Venezuelan military display, expressing frustration by snarled traffic blocked by the maneuvers.

A woman sits next to an armored vehicle taking part in military exercises in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro ordered two days of nationwide military drills, including the participation of civilian militias. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

"I do not think that this does anything,” Blanco said.

Associated Press writer Scott Smith contributed to this story.

Members of the Bolivarian National Militia and soldiers take part in a military drill in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro ordered two days of nationwide military exercises, including the participation of civilian militias. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

A member of a pro-government militia group stands on a roof overlooking the 23 de Enero neighborhood during an invasion drill in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro ordered two days of nationwide military exercises, including participation of civilian militias. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

Military personnel crosses a highway during military drills in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro ordered two days of nationwide military exercises, including the participation of civilian militias. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

Workers look at soldiers taking part in an invasion drill in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro ordered two days of nationwide military exercises, including the participation of civilian militias. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

Soldiers line up on an overpass during military drills in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro ordered two days of nationwide military exercises, including the participation of civilian militias. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

A member of the Bolivarian National Militia takes part in an invasion drill in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro ordered two days of nationwide military exercises, including participation of civilian militias. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

A military drill at La Carlota airbase in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro ordered two days of nationwide military exercises, including participation of civilian militias. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

Members of the National Bolivarian Militia seat in a military vehicle after taking part in a military drill in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro ordered two days of nationwide military exercises, including participation of civilian militias. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

Members of the Bolivarian National Militias rest atop a building next to La Carlota air base during military excersices in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro ordered two days of nationwide military drills, including the participation of civilian militias. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

Self-proclaimed interim president of Venezuela and opposition leader Juan Guaido speaks at a press conference in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Guaido returned this week from an international tour seeking support to oust President Nicolas Maduro, violating a travel ban. (AP PhotoAriana Cubillos)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro gives a press conference at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. Maduro said Friday that authorities haven’t detained opposition leader Juan Guaido because the courts haven’t ordered it, but he warned: “It will come.” (AP PhotoAriana Cubillos)