Bogota - Venezuela's self-declared interim president, Juan Guaido, on Tuesday announced a "gradual" strike in the public sector to pile up pressure on President Nicolas Maduro, even as the threat of being arrested still hung over him.
"Public sector employees, workers, trade unions will not continue cooperating with ... a regime that jails and persecutes them," Guaido said at a meeting with unions in Caracas.
He told journalists there were plans for a "gradual" strike involving "all the sectors" and that it had been proposed by workers, who would announce its starting date and act as its spokespersons.
The opposition-dominated National Assembly, which Guaido heads, will meanwhile start meeting public sector employees on Wednesday, he tweeted.
The plans include legislation to protect the employees from political pressure to back Maduro, local media reported.
Guaido also promised union representatives that an "amnesty" would be granted to employees who turn against the president.
The opposition leader has made a similar offer to the army. Hundreds of soldiers have defected and crossed into neighbouring Colombia.
Guaido returned to Caracas on Monday after a 10-day Latin America tour aimed at mustering support for his campaign to bring humanitarian aid to Venezuela; oust Maduro; and stage fresh elections.
Maduro had suggested that Guaido could be arrested for having violated a travel ban imposed by the Supreme Court, but the opposition leader was nevertheless allowed to pass through Caracas airport.
Guaido then went on to address an ecstatic rally of thousands of supporters, announcing a new round of anti-government protests for Saturday.
Maduro late on Tuesday advised his supporters "not to pay attention" to the opposition, which he referred to as "the crazy minority."
"We cannot give in to provocations ... there they are with their child's games," Maduro said at an event paying tribute to his predecessor Hugo Chavez, according to broadcaster NTN24 and other media.
The president also called an "anti-imperialist" protest to coincide with the opposition rallies on Saturday. "We are on the right side of history," Maduro said, using the same words previously used by Guaido to refer to the opposition.
The fact that Guaido was not arrested on arrival was seen as reflecting the international pressure Maduro is facing, with US Vice President Mike Pence warning on Monday that any action against the opposition leader would be met with a "swift response."
The government's initial decision not to detain Guaido "seems to indicate the beginning of a negotiation, local and international," tweeted Luis Vicente Leon, head of the Caracas-based polling company Datanalisis.
But Maduro's vice president, Delcy Rodriguez, told Russian state media that Guaido is "trying to seize power" upon the "direct order" of Washington.
Venezuela intends to "examine his behaviour, his activity" and "take measures accordingly" on a legal basis, Rodriguez told Russian state broadcaster Rossiya-24 in the interview that aired on Monday.
US Senator Marco Rubio warned on Monday that the risk of Guaido being detained "remains very real."
Maduro, who has presided over an economic meltdown, won a second term in an election boycotted by most of the opposition last year.
Guaido declared himself interim president in January and received the backing of about 60 countries.
His attempt to bring humanitarian aid to Venezuelans suffering from food and medicine shortages was prevented by the army on the Colombian and Brazilian borders last month.
More than 3 million Venezuelans have emigrated to flee the economic crisis and political crackdowns.dpa