Venezuela's Guaido calls anti-Maduro rally for March 10

A profile view of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Gaido taken during a meeting with union representatives in Caracas on February 20, 2020; he has called for a major anti-government rally on March 10 (AFP Photo/Federico PARRA)

Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido on Friday called a demonstration in a bid to reignite the protest movement he hopes will force President Nicolas Maduro from office.

He called on "women, students [and] unions" to join him in a demonstration outside parliament on March 10 "to find a solution to the crisis" and demand "a truly free election."

Venezuela has been beset by five years of recession. Poverty has soared and millions have fled the country while hyperinflation has left many people's salaries and savings worthless.

A year ago, the South American country lurched into crisis when parliament speaker Guaido declared himself acting president after the National Assembly branded Maduro a "usurper"; his re-election in 2018 came in polls widely dismissed as rigged.

Guaido wants Maduro to stand down in favor of a transitional government that would hold free and fair elections.

Although Guaido quickly secured the backing of more than 50 countries and initially led street protests drawing tens of thousands of people, his popularity has waned.

- High-profile foreign tour -

However, he recently returned from a high-profile international tour -- meeting US President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron -- to drum up support for his renewed push.

Maduro, meantime, has tried to shove Guaido off of the political stage by backing a rival claimant to the role of parliament speaker.

Luis Parra, a former Guaido ally, declared himself National Assembly president on January 5 as armed forces loyal to Maduro prevented Guaido from entering the legislature building for what was supposed to be a vote to ratify him as speaker.

Several times since then, the armed forces have blocked Guaido and allied legislators from entering parliament.

"We know what the dictatorship's attitude is: they're going to try to blockade, they're going to try to intimidate, they're going to try to persecute," said Guaido, speaking at a meeting in Caracas before around 400 supporters.

"If they want to send me or any family member to prison, here I am," he added. His uncle Juan Marquez was detained last week at the Caracas international airport.

The government claims Marquez, who was on a flight with Guaido returning from Portugal, was carrying explosives -- an allegation his defense team has called a "vile setup."