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Venezuela's Maduro oversees military drill to guard 'socialist fatherland'

By Alexandra Ulmer

CARACAS (Reuters) - His finger on a rifle trigger and wearing an olive green hat, President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday oversaw military exercises in crisis-wrought Venezuela, which he says is under threat of imperialist" invasion due to its oil wealth.

More than half a million soldiers and civilians were deployed in the drill. State television broadcast footage of soldiers camouflaged as bushes shouting "socialist fatherland!" while commanders brandished Russian-made military equipment.

"We're ready to defend our land, inch by inch, neighborhood by neighborhood, street by street," said Maduro during a drill in Miranda state.

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Opponents of the unpopular Socialist leader scoff he is delusional and say his administration should be focused on stocking empty supermarkets and pharmacies amid brutal shortages in the recession-hit OPEC nation.

"You are PATHETIC, Nicolas Maduro," tweeted opposition lawmaker Armando Armas, adding the drill was a "pantomime."

The opposition is trying to remove Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, but authorities have quashed chances of an early presidential vote.

Seen as key powerbrokers in the volatile country, the military's top brass has firmly backed Maduro's "21st century socialism," although most soldiers are also suffering from Venezuela's economic recession.

Many were deployed across the country of 30 million on Saturday, with exercises that included protecting Venezuela's coastal oil refineries or practicing urban defense. State television promoted the hashtag #TimeToDefendTheFatherland.

But for many Venezuelans struggling to eat three meals a day amid what is thought to be the world's steepest inflation, the exercises fell flat. And after a week in which authorities rounded up several opposition politicians amid accusations of coup-plotting, some Venezuelans saw a darker subtext to the show of military force.

(Reporting and writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by David Gregorio)

 
 
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