Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino tweeted the statement as Venezuela’s opposition, led by Juan Guaido, head of the National Assembly, called for massive rallies to demand President Nicolas Maduro’s ouster, and as Maduro claims the United States has orchestrated a coup to topple him.

Maduro took a blow Saturday as Venezuela’s military attaché in Washington, Col. José Luis Silva Silva, defected and said he stands with Guaido in the power struggle. Observers say control of the military is key to forcing new elections.

Padrino’s remarks, delivered on the official Defense Ministry account, praised Venezuela’s military for taking a moral high ground in the face of American “imperialists.”

“It is time for revolutionary, Bolivarian, patriotic activism,” Padrino tweeted. “This is the activism that today empowers us in this new phase of defending our homeland. We are not going to hand it over! We are ready to die for it!”

US official: Maduro regime a ‘mafia state’

Guaido declared himself acting president last week amid deadly anti-government protests, claiming Maduro was illegitimately elected for a second term in May.

Maduro responded Monday in a tweet saying that he received 67.84% of the votes in the election, “way higher than what was achieved by those governments that are trying to impose a coup in Venezuela. Here the people elect, not the Empire!”

The United States and several Latin American nations did not recognize the May election as legitimate.

The battle to lead the country has divided the world. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton have implored nations to join the US in recognizing Guaido’s government.

“We’re here to urge all nations to support the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people as they try to free themselves from former president Maduro’s illegitimate mafia state,” Bolton tweeted Sunday.

The United Kingdom, Spain, Germany and France said Saturday they would recognize Guaido as leader if elections weren’t scheduled in eight days. Maduro did not appear open to the idea.

“Nobody gives us an ultimatum,” he said. “All of Europe is bowing down to Donald Trump. It’s that simple, especially when it comes the Venezuela.”

Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru have also recognized Guaido as president, while Russia, China, Cuba and Turkey are among those backing Maduro.

Maduro alleges US coup behind upheaval

In a video posted to Twitter on Sunday, Guaido called for the people of Venezuela to peacefully take to the streets Wednesday in opposition to Maduro’s presidency. He asked people to join him for a second protest Saturday, where he called for support from within Venezuela and throughout the world.

“The people who think that we are going to fizzle, I think they are not going to be happy,” Guaido said Friday in his first public appearance after challenging Maduro’s regime. “There are people here in the streets for a long time.”

He told The Washington Post that the opposition is in talks with military and civilian officials to force Maduro out of the presidential palace.

“This is a very delicate subject involving personal security,” he told the paper. “We are meeting with them, but discreetly.”

Maduro says Venezuela has fallen “victim of a US conspiracy.” He referred specifically to reports that US Vice President Mike Pence promised Guaido full American support the day before he declared himself Venezuela’s new leader.

The US has launched a coup to remove him from office, he said, telling CNN Turk he’s reached out to Trump but hasn’t received a response because “I think he’s overwhelmed with his domestic problem and, I believe, I think he despises us. He despises all of America and the Caribbean. I think he despises the world.”

He continued, “This is the reason for the coup. They don’t want us to get better. They sabotage us and try to destroy the economic system.”

A UN official said Friday that at least 20 people had been killed in protest-related violence last week, while the nongovernmental Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict on Friday pegged the tally at 29 since Wednesday night. CNN could not independently confirm the counts.

In the last week, 850 people — 77 of them minors — have been arrested in connection with the protests, according to Foro Penal, a human rights group that monitors courts and police.

Inflation, economic mismanagement and corruption are some of the factors behind the country’s unrest. A modest basket of water, nuts, cheese, ham and fruit cost the equivalent of 200 US dollars in a country where the monthly wage is less than $10.

Amid forecasts by the International Monetary Fund predicting hyperinflation could reach 10,000,000% in 2019, Venezuela moved Monday to devalue its currency and allow a new private entity to operate on the foreign exchange market.

CNN’s Hande Atay Alam, Jason Hanna, Ray Sanchez and Flora Charner contributed to this report.

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