Juan Guaido
© Reuters/Manaure Quintero
Juan Guaido, President of the Venezuelan National Assembly
The leader of Venezuela's opposition says he is ready to seize power and is seeking army support to stage a coup against President Nicolas Maduro, after the US refused to recognize the legitimacy of his just-started six-year term.

"The United States does not recognize Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro's illegitimate claim to power. His 'election' in May 2018 was viewed internationally as not free, fair or credible," US National Security Advisor John Bolton reiterated Friday, in a statement.

Furthermore, the US welcomed the "courageous decision" of the country's National Assembly President Juan Guaido, who, on Friday, stated he was ready to take over the president's office. Addressing the public the day after Maduro was sworn into office for a second term, Guaido asked for an "international mandate" and for the army to help him assume the office of the president.

"It should be the people of Venezuela, the armed forces, and the international community that give us a clear mandate to assume" the presidency, Guaido said in Caracas on Friday.

Following the opposition leader's plea, Bolton made it clear that the US will use the "full weight" of its diplomatic and economic power to promote the "restoration" of Venezuelan democracy and to reverse what Washington believes to be a "constitutional crisis" in the country.

Maduro immediately hit back at his challenger, dismissing Guaido's calls as childish dreams and assuring the public that he will continue to exercise his functions as the head of state. The Venezuelan leader called the opposition's resolve to capture power just a "show" aimed at destabilizing the country even further.

"It seems a group of little boys has taken control of the opposition and now they want to play destabilization again," the 56-year-old said, calling on the people to "mobilize" and show support for his leadership.

After winning the presidential election last May, Maduro was sworn in for his second term on Thursday in a development widely criticized, not only by Washington but by the Organization of American States (OAS) and by the so-called Lima Group, created in the Peruvian capital in 2017 to deal with the crisis in Venezuela.

US economic pressure and the decline of oil prices in recent years has contributed to the severe social and economic crisis in Venezuela. Hit by hyperinflation, the devaluation of the national currency and a shortage of basic necessities, millions of people have been forced to leave the country in search of a better life in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. Meanwhile, anti-government rallies continue to spread across the country.

Maduro and his government believe that the discontent has been deliberately fueled by foreign powers. The president has repeatedly accused the US of collaborating with Venezuelan neighbors and the opposition to oust him from power.