Venezuelan military helicopter crashes, 7 officers killed

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Guaido, the head of the opposition-run National Assembly, is recognised as Venezuela's legitimate head of state by the United States, the European Union and others, while Maduro is backed by countries including Russia, China and Cuba.

"We're preparing those for [Guaidó] so that when the situation arises, we're not flatfooted", Pompeo said.

The United States is insisting Maduro's days are numbered, but experts say its options for breaking the stalemate are limited, and that Washington may have overestimated the opposition leader's strength.

"I told the generals and admirals yesterday: loyalty, I want an active loyalty", Maduro said in a speech to some 5,000 troops that was broadcast nationally on radio and television.

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Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido gestures as he speaks to supporters during a rally against the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

For his part, Maduro says US sanctions aimed at forcing him from power are taking a toll on the economy, and his government has accused Guaido of fomenting violence when he appealed to the military last week to switch sides to the opposition.

On April 30, Guaido, standing near the La Carlota air force base in capital Caracas and surrounded by a group of about 70 armed men wearing uniforms, called for military units to support him in the "final phase" of a plan to end Maduro's "usurpation" of power. "I trust you, but keep your eyes open; a handful of traitors can not tarnish the honor, the unity, the cohesion and the image of the armed forces", the president said.

"The president has said that the Russians must get out", Pompeo replied. Earlier this week, Guaidó unsuccessfully called on the country's military to revolt against Maduro, however, anti-Maduro protests have continued.

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The U.S. -backed Guaido declared himself interim president in January, saying Maduro's re-election past year was rigged and one in a series of increasingly authoritarian steps since he replaced the late Hugo Chavez in 2013 as president. Clashes with security forces left four dead, along with hundreds injured or detained, according to Reuters.

Seven Venezuelan military officers have been killed when their helicopter crashed while heading to a state where President Nicolas Maduro appeared alongside troops on Saturday.

Having cancelled his Europe trip because of ongoing planning on Venezuela, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan held closed-door meetings at the Pentagon on Friday with John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

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