Berlin/Buenos Aires – With hours to go until a deadline passes for Nicolas Maduro to call fresh elections or lose yet more support on the world stage, the Venezuelan leader alluded to a possible civil war in comments to media.
No one can say with certainty what the risks are of such a scenario unfolding, he told the La Sexta broadcaster in an interview set to be broadcast on Sunday evening.
Excerpts of the interview were released in Spanish print media earlier in the day.
"Everything depends on the degree of insanity and aggressiveness of the northern imperialists [United States] and its Western allies," he said.
An eight-day deadline for Maduro to declare fresh elections is set to run out on Sunday, after which seven EU countries have said they will recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as president.
Guaido, the leader of the National Assembly, declared himself interim head of state on January 23, a move which was immediately recognized by the US and numerous other countries.
Maduro won a second term in a May election widely seen as undemocratic and was inaugurated in January. He has presided over an economic disaster, with millions of Venezuelans fleeing abroad to escape hyperinflation and food and medicine shortages.
At least 35 people have died in protests since January and around 850 arrests have been made, according to media reports.
Though a high-ranking air force general on Saturday disavowed Maduro, the president enjoys the support of the military and the country’s security services. He is also backed by Russia, China, Turkey, Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua.
Maduro has already dismissed the demand of Germany, France, Britain, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Belgium as an "impertinence," telling supporters at a rally on Saturday "I am the true president of Venezuela."
In the interview with La Sexta, which the broadcaster said was conducted on Friday, Maduro said, "We simply live in our country and ask that nobody intervene in internal affairs. And we are preparing ourselves to defend our country."
He added that people in factories, universities and other civic spheres are preparing for combat.
Interviewer Jordi Evole, one of Spain’s most respected television journalists, replied, "I’m scared of what you’re saying, Mr Maduro."
"Really? It doesn’t scare me," was the embattled president’s response.
In response to the European deadline for elections, Maduro said, "We do not accept an ultimatum from anyone."