efe-epaCaracas

National Assembly Speaker Juan Guaido, recognized as this South American nation's interim president by more than 50 countries, addressed supporters in an opposition bastion of this capital Tuesday a few hours after asking Venezuelans to take to the streets to demand that President Nicolas Maduro leave office.

"Call everyone and tell them to come here," said the country's self-proclaimed interim president before thousands of supporters while standing on the roof of a vehicle accompanied by opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

In the early morning hours, a group of armed men taking orders from Guaido freed Lopez from house arrest and both political figures called on soldiers and civilians to launch a final push to bring down the Maduro administration.

Lopez and Guaido then headed to a highway bridge near La Carlota airbase in eastern Caracas, where they were joined by defecting members of the military, journalists and protesters.

Guaido, surrounded by members of the Bolivarian National Guard, the national militarized police, posted a video on social media in which he urged civilians and the armed forces to join in what he called the final phase of "Operation Freedom."

The self-proclaimed president and his political mentor later made their way to the affluent Caracas neighborhood of Altamira and EFE determined that the thousands of people who had come to the initial site after Guaido's call then left that location and moved to the rally.

"Today we're here and we're going to stay here asking the soldiers to join this legitimate struggle by all the people of Venezuela," he told supporters there.

Some in the crowd demanded that he continue to lead the protests and head for the Miraflores presidential palace, where followers of Maduro gathered on Tuesday.

Although Guaido did not respond to that request, his communications center asked opposition supporters on Twitter to remain out on the streets.

"The time has come. To the streets and don't leave," the message read.

Maduro said that he has the "complete loyalty" of the country's military commanders in view of the uprising headed by Guaido along with a relatively small group of soldiers.

"Nerves of Steel! I've talked with the Commanders ... of the country, who have expressed to me the complete loyalty to the People, to the Constitution and to the Homeland," Maduro said on Twitter.

Maduro called for the "maximum public mobilization to ensure the triumph of peace."

At La Carlota, security forces loyal to Maduro fired tear gas at Guaido and the soldiers backing him, as Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the government was "confronting and deactivating" a coup attempt.

The defense minister, Gen. Vladimir Padrino Lopez, said military bases across the country were operating "normally" and rejected Guaido's call for soldiers to take up arms against the government.

The No. 2 official in the ruling leftist PSUV party, Diosdado Cabello, said that the soldiers loyal to Guaido abandoned the airbase.

Cabello said before hundreds of Maduro supporters gathered around Miraflores to defend the president, that Guaido and his rebels left the installation when they encountered resistance by officials loyal to the government.

Cabello climbed onto a truck and said of the opposition members "They took selfies, they took photos, openly participating in a coup d'etat (and) when they noticed that the whole thing wasn't going to work, they pretended they didn't notice."

Padrino Lopez, meanwhile, said that the Venezuelan military (FANB) will use force of arms if necessary to halt the military uprising headed by Guaido.

Guaido declared himself interim president on Jan. 23 in a direct challenge to leftist leader Maduro's authority and has since won the backing of dozens of nations, including the United States and most of the European Union.

In recent years, the oil-rich nation has been racked by widespread protests amid a crumbling economy and hyperinflation.

The opposition leader, who is head of the National Assembly, sees himself as a defender of the Venezuelan Constitution, which he said Maduro flouted in 2017 when he staged elections to elect a parallel legislature, which has gained little international recognition and was boycotted by the opposition.