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Venezuela celebrates Militia Day with calls to swell the ranks by a million

VENEZUELAN President Nicolas Maduro plans to swell the ranks of the country’s civilian militia by asking for a million more volunteers to join by the end of the year.

He was speaking at a rally in the capital Caracas to celebrate Militia Day, which marks the anniversary of the people’s response to the attempted US-backed overthrow of former president Hugo Chavez in 2002.

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of the capital to commemorate the release of the late socialist leader and to protest against new right-wing attempts to seize power led by president of the defunct national assembly Juan Guaido.

Mr Maduro spoke of the “strength and courage” showed by Mr Chavez during the most difficult circumstances, maintaining an “unwavering loyalty to the people and the country.

“Like him we say today: always loyal, traitors never,” he told the crowds gathered at the Miraflores Palace.

The national militia was formed by Mr Chavez in 2009, made up of volunteers working alongside the armed forces. Last year it grew from 400,000 to almost two million as Venezuelans signed up in the face of threatened military intervention and aggression by the US, Colombia and Brazil.

Addressing the people’s militia on Saturday Mr Maduro urged them to get involved in agriculture as Venezuela seeks to diversify its economy, which is dependent on oil.

“With your rifles on your shoulders, be ready to defend the fatherland and dig the furrow to plant the seeds to produce food for the community, for the people,” Mr Maduro said.

Mr Guaido’s Washington-backed bid to oust Mr Maduro appears to have flopped, with the army and people remaining loyal to the government. The self-appointed “interim president” is accused of plotting attacks on Venezuela’s energy supply with the US and faces a possible jail sentence after his immunity from prosecution was lifted by the Supreme Court.

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