Venezuela shows off weapons

CARACAS, Venezuela (AFP) — Venezuelan troops and civil militias practiced rifle-shooting and showed off tanks and missiles on Saturday in defiance of US President Donald Trump’s threat of military action and new sanctions on the crisis-stricken nation.

War planes, tanks and 200,000 troops of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB) deployed along with 700,000 reservists and civilians as socialist President Nicolas Maduro launched two days of military exercises.

Police and troops paraded through central Caracas with what the government said was an anti-aircraft missile.

“The people and the FANB are defending territory and sovereignty,” Maduro wrote on Twitter.

Trump warned earlier this month that the United States was mulling a range of options against Venezuela, “including a possible military option if necessary.”

Top US officials later played down the threat. “No military actions are anticipated in the near future,” said US national security advisor HR McMaster.

But tension surged again when the White House on Friday unveiled its first-ever sanctions to target Venezuela as a whole, rather than just Maduro and his inner circle.

The measures ban trade in new bonds issued by the Venezuelan government or its cash-cow oil company, PDVSA.

That could choke off access to New York debt markets and raise the risk of Venezuela being forced into default.

Trump’s threat of military force meanwhile has bolstered Maduro’s oft-repeated claim that Washington is plotting to topple him and wants to grab control of Venezuela’s oil — the largest proven reserves in the world.

Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said the armed forces support “all measures being implemented to counter the financial blockade.”

In an address at one of the exercises near Caracas, he told assembled troops the drills were “for the defense of the whole country” against “imperial aggression.”