Venezuela Independence Day marked by rival rallies, UN rebuke

Margioni BERMUDEZ et Guillaume DECAMME
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Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guido implored supporters who had gathered in the streets of Caracas on July 5 not to give up hope

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guido implored supporters who had gathered in the streets of Caracas on July 5 not to give up hope (AFP Photo/YURI CORTEZ )

Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela's Independence Day was marked by rival rallies Friday, led by opposition leader Juan Guaido and President Nicholas Maduro, who waged a war of words even as the UN warned of eroded rule of law in the country.

Guaido, who considers himself Venezuela's legitimate acting leader, implored supporters in the streets of Caracas not to give up hope: "Don't leave! We're going to get there! Have no doubt, we'll succeed."

The crowd that gathered to hear the center-right leader, who in January declared himself acting president in a direct challenge to Maduro's authority, was markedly smaller than those at the beginning of the year.

The country was observing the July 5 holiday celebrating its 1811 Declaration of Independence.

Maduro, meanwhile, led a military parade down the Paseo de los Proceres, a boulevard honoring the country's founders, and received a public display of support from the military's top brass.

"Count on the armed forces... we are not afraid to face the enemies of the country," General Remigio Ceballos, commander of operational strategy, assured the president.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet meanwhile presented a damning report on Venezuela which pointed to attacks on political opponents and activists, including torture and thousands of killings by security forces in the country.

She said that attempting to exercise the most basic rights like freedom of opinion, expression, association and assembly in Venezuela "entails a risk of reprisals and repression."

However she later welcomed the release of 22 prisoners in recent days, including journalist Braulio Jatar and Lourdes Afiuni, a judge.

The Supreme Court confirmed the reversal of detention measures against the two, although they were yet to be released.

Afiuni, who has been detained since 2009 expressed her "immense gratitude" to Bachelet on Twitter, saying her release, if it was finalised, would "be the end of nine years and seven months of persecution and torture."

Jatar's sister denied he had been freed, but said she hoped he would be released on Thursday.

The United States, along with some fifty other countries, including major Latin American powers, has declared Maduro to be illegitimate and recognized Guido as the interim leader.

But Maduro has withstood a US-led pressure campaign that includes sanctions on Venezuela's crucial oil exports, and still enjoys support from Russia, China and Cuba.