Demonstrators clashed with police on the streets of the Venezuelan capital on Tuesday, spurred by Opposition leader Juan Guaido's call on the military to rise up against President Nicolas Maduro -- who said he had defeated an attempted coup.
An apparently carefully planned attempt by Guaido to demonstrate growing military support disintegrated into rioting as palls of black smoke rose over eastern Caracas.
Tuesday evening, Maduro declared victory over the uprising -- congratulating the armed forces for having "defeated this small group that intended to spread violence through putschist skirmishes." "This will not go unpunished," Maduro said in an address broadcast on television and the radio.
"(Prosecutors) will launch criminal prosecutions for the serious crimes that have been committed against the constitution, the rule of law and the right to peace," he added.
Guaido had been immediately backed the United States, where President Donald Trump said in a tweet Washington was standing behind the Venezuelan people and their 'freedom'.
He rallied his supporters with an early morning video message that showed him -- for the first time -- with armed troops he said had heeded months of urging to join his campaign to oust Maduro.
The 35-year-old National Assembly leader was filmed outside the La Carlota air base, where he asked the armed forces inside to join him.
The video had the extra shock value of featuring key opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez at his side, saying soldiers had released him from years of house arrest.
Guaido claimed the move was the "beginning of the end" of Maduro's regime, and there was "no turning back." He later called for a fresh round of protests on Wednesday, in another video message.
Thousands of opposition supporters flocked onto a highway near the air base, many waving Venezuelan flags, but they were met with gunfire and tear-gas fired by soldiers at the compound's perimeter.
Lopez later entered the Chilean embassy with his wife and one of his children to claim asylum, before moving to the Spanish embassy, Chile's Foreign Minister Roberto Ampuero announced in Santiago.
Soldiers backing Guaido wore blue armbands to demonstrate their allegiance to the opposition leader -- recognized as interim president by more than 50 countries -- but there appeared to be few of them.
Brazil said later a number of Venezuelan troops had sought asylum at its Caracas embassy. Brazilian media put that number at 25.
Just as the case was with #Syria, Western news outlets refuse to cover the massive rallies launched by the people of #Venezuela today against the latest US-backed military coup attempt because it doesn’t advance their pro-war, regime change agenda. #HandsOffVenezuela pic.twitter.com/TpEMGW1069— Sarah Abdallah (@sahouraxo) April 30, 2019
But Maduro had called on his forces to show "nerves of steel" and troops in riot gear, backed by armored vehicles and water tankers, lined up against the demonstrators.
Several vehicles plowed into the crowd, injuring some of the protesters. Rioters later blocked the highway with a bus and set it on fire.
A plume of black smoke rose from an area near a helicopter hangar on the base, where demonstrators who briefly managed to enter were pushed back.
Ayer #28Abr se expresó en las calles de mi hermosa Caracas, la voz de un pueblo valiente, digno y libre, que manifiesta su total respaldo a la decisión soberana de abandonar para siempre ese instrumento de dominación imperial llamado #OEA. pic.twitter.com/ndYIcGgWFi— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) April 28, 2019
"Today is the day Maduro resigns. Today is the day all the country's drug dealers resign. Today we have a Venezuela. Today we have a nation," said one protester amid the confusion.
As United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to all sides to avoid violence, Venezuela's Army Chief and Defense Minister, General Vladimir Padrino issued a stark warning of possible "bloodshed" -- adding that he would hold the opposition responsible.
He later said an army colonel had received a bullet wound to the neck during the clashes in Caracas. Health officials said 69 people were injured, including two from bullet wounds.
The US, meanwhile, called on the military to protect the people and support "legitimate institutions" including the opposition-controlled National Assembly.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN he believed Maduro was ready to flee the country to ally Cuba before he was dissuaded by Russia -- a claimed Maduro later refuted.
Moscow, Maduro's main backer and creditor alongside China, accused Guaido of "fueling conflict" in the oil-rich country.