Journalists help reporter Gregory Jaimes, holding a VPITV microphone, who was injured while covering clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters in the Altamira neighbourhood of Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: Ariana Cubillos/AP
Journalists help reporter Gregory Jaimes, holding a VPITV microphone, who was injured while covering clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters in the Altamira neighbourhood of Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: Ariana Cubillos/AP
An anti-government protester winds up to throw a rock at security forces during clashes between the two, in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: Fernando Llano/AP
An anti-government protester winds up to throw a rock at security forces during clashes between the two, in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: Fernando Llano/AP
National Police detain an anti-government protester near the La Carlota airbase during clashes between the two sides in Caracas. Pictuer: Rodrigo Abd/AP
National Police detain an anti-government protester near the La Carlota airbase during clashes between the two sides in Caracas. Pictuer: Rodrigo Abd/AP
Anti-government protester Albert Gonzales holds rocks to throw at the National Police during clashes near La Carlota airbase in Caracas. Picture: Rodrigo Abd/AP
Anti-government protester Albert Gonzales holds rocks to throw at the National Police during clashes near La Carlota airbase in Caracas. Picture: Rodrigo Abd/AP
Anti-government protesters clash with the National Guard near the La Carlota airbase in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: Rodrigo Abd/AP
Anti-government protesters clash with the National Guard near the La Carlota airbase in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: Rodrigo Abd/AP
National Police forces detain anti-government protesters near the La Carlota airbase during clashes in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: Rodrigo Abd/AP
National Police forces detain anti-government protesters near the La Carlota airbase during clashes in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: Rodrigo Abd/AP
An anti-government protester throws a rock toward security forces inside La Carlota airbase in Caracas. Picture: Ariana Cubillos/AP
An anti-government protester throws a rock toward security forces inside La Carlota airbase in Caracas. Picture: Ariana Cubillos/AP
A detained anti-government protester is driven away on a motorcycle by National Police during clashes between protesters and security forces in Caracas.  Picture: Fernando Llano/AP
A detained anti-government protester is driven away on a motorcycle by National Police during clashes between protesters and security forces in Caracas. Picture: Fernando Llano/AP
A woman cries out as National Police drive away with detained anti-government protesters on a motorcycle, during clashes between protesters and security forces, in Caracas. Picture: Fernando Llano/AP
A woman cries out as National Police drive away with detained anti-government protesters on a motorcycle, during clashes between protesters and security forces, in Caracas. Picture: Fernando Llano/AP
Flames erupt on a water cannon vehicle after anti-government demonstrators hit it with a gasoline bomb during clashes with security forces loyal to President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas. Picture: Martin Mejia/AP
Flames erupt on a water cannon vehicle after anti-government demonstrators hit it with a gasoline bomb during clashes with security forces loyal to President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas. Picture: Martin Mejia/AP
Security forces, some in civilian clothing, take positions inside La Carlota airbase during clashes with anti-government protesters in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: Ariana Cubillos/AP
Security forces, some in civilian clothing, take positions inside La Carlota airbase during clashes with anti-government protesters in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: Ariana Cubillos/AP
National Guards stand behind a fallen section of fencing on the perimeter of La Carlota airbase during clashes with anti-government protesters in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: Ariana Cubillos/AP
National Guards stand behind a fallen section of fencing on the perimeter of La Carlota airbase during clashes with anti-government protesters in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: Ariana Cubillos/AP
An anti-government protester wearing a gorilla mask keeps an eye on the movement of security forces during clashes in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: Fernando Llano/AP
An anti-government protester wearing a gorilla mask keeps an eye on the movement of security forces during clashes in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: Fernando Llano/AP
Anti-government protesters carry homemade shields during clashes with security forces, as they run on the road outside La Carlota airbase in Caracas. Picture: Ariana Cubillos/AP
Anti-government protesters carry homemade shields during clashes with security forces, as they run on the road outside La Carlota airbase in Caracas. Picture: Ariana Cubillos/AP
Anti-government protesters take cover behind a road wall, covered by the Spanish phrase "End the usurpation" during clashes with security forces inside La Carlota airbase in Caracas. Picture: Ariana Cubillos/AP
Anti-government protesters take cover behind a road wall, covered by the Spanish phrase "End the usurpation" during clashes with security forces inside La Carlota airbase in Caracas. Picture: Ariana Cubillos/AP
An anti-government protester returns a tear gas canister launched by security forces to disperse demonstrators in Caracas, Venezuela.  Picture: Fernando Llano/AP
An anti-government protester returns a tear gas canister launched by security forces to disperse demonstrators in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: Fernando Llano/AP
An anti-government protester launches a molotov cocktail at National Guard forces outside La Carlota airbase during clashes between the two sides in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: Rodrigo Abd/AP
An anti-government protester launches a molotov cocktail at National Guard forces outside La Carlota airbase during clashes between the two sides in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: Rodrigo Abd/AP

Caracas, Venezuela - Venezuelans heeded opposition leader Juan Guaidó's call to fill streets around the nation Wednesday but security forces showed no sign of answering his cry for a widespread military uprising, instead dispersing crowds with tear gas as the political crisis threatened to deepen.

Thousands cheered Guaidó in Caracas as he rolled up his sleeves and called on Venezuelans to remain out in force and prepare for a general strike, a day after his bold attempt to spark a mass military defection against President Nicolas Maduro failed to tilt the balance of power.

"It's totally clear now the usurper has lost," Guaidó proclaimed, a declaration belied by events on the ground.

Across town at the Carlota air base near where Guaidó made his plea a day earlier for a revolt, intense clashes raged between protesters and troops loyal to Maduro, making clear the standoff would drag on. There and elsewhere, state security forces launched tear gas and fired rubber bullets while bands of mostly young men armed with makeshift shields threw rocks and set a motorcycle ablaze.

"I don't want to say it was a disaster, but it wasn't a success," said Marilina Carillo, who was standing in a crowd of anti-government protesters blowing horns and whistles.

An anti-government protester calls for help as she and another woman help a fellow demonstrator who has been overcome by teargas during clashes with security forces, in Caracas. Picture: Fernando Llano/AP

Opposition leaders hoped Guaidó's risky move would stir a string of high-ranking defections and shake Maduro's grip on power. But only the chief of Venezuela's feared intelligence agency broke ranks, while most others stood steadfast. Some analysts predicted that would make Maduro more emboldened.

The dramatic events could spell even more uncertainty for Venezuela, which has been rocked by three months of political upheaval since Guaidó re-energized a flagging opposition movement by declaring himself interim president, saying Maduro had usurped power.

Now the struggle has heightened geopolitical dimensions, with the United States and more than 50 other nations backing Guaidó as Venezuela's legitimate president and Maduro allies like Russia lending the beleaguered president military and economic support.

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó speaks to supporters in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: Fernando Llano/AP

US National Security Adviser John Bolton said Wednesday that Maduro is surrounded by "scorpions in a bottle" and that key figures among his inner circle had been "outed" as dealing with the opposition.

The United States contends Maduro had been ready to flee Tuesday, an airplane already on the tarmac, but was talked out of it by Russian advisers.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry, said such assertions were part of a "global information and psychological war against Venezuela and Caracas."

"There is no proof there was a Russian plane there," she said. "The U.S. is big on Venezuela and wants to bring this to an end but that cannot do that."

Protesters like Beatriz Pino, who took to the streets Wednesday waving flags and banging pots and pans, said they weren't entirely surprised by the military's response to Guaidó. She said the late President Hugo Chavez politicized Venezuela's military as he installed a socialist system. Despite the setback, she said she remained committed to the opposition's call for protest.

"We can't leave the streets," she said. "We've been in this for years."

A protester who was injured during clashes with security forces is treated in the Altamira neighbourhood of Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: Ariana Cubillos/AP

As the standoff drags on, life is becoming even more difficult for Venezuelans, who are struggling with hyperinflation that has rendered salaries worthless as well as severe shortages of food and medicine that have driven about 3 million people to flee the country in recent years.

"We need to get out of this tragedy," said Ana Camarillo, a housewife.

David Smilde, a Venezuela expert, said the opposition's thus far unsuccessful attempt to trigger an uprising should provoke a round of reflection.

"Given the balance of power within Venezuela and the geopolitical struggle around it, they need to engage in real politics and real negotiations to move this conflict to a different place," he said.

At a large pro-Maduro rally Wednesday, ruling party leader Diosdado Cabello said that "as a bloc" Venezuela's military remained intact and united behind Maduro. He likened opposition leaders to "walking zombies."

Supporters of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro carry a portrait of him during a rally in Caracas. Picture: Boris Vergara/AP

Luis Scott was among those wearing bright red shirts in solidarity with the socialist government and said he traveled seven hours on a bus to participate in the rally. He conceded Venezuela has deep economic troubles, but said the path set by Chavez and Maduro is firm.

"We are fighting for our freedom," the fisherman said.

While Maduro maintains a devout core of fervent supporters first inspired by Chavez, attendance at such shows of support is viewed as a requirement of their jobs.

At the Plaza Francia in Caracas' Altamira neighborhood, protesters jammed the streets in one of the opposition's biggest demonstrations yet. A few blocks away the scene quickly turned ugly. Protesters surrounded a suspected thief, beating him until he bled. A man with a megaphone appealed to the crowd to return to the fight against police.

"The fight is down there!" he said, gesturing to the direction of a military base.

Mayor Gustavo Duque said the Salud Chacao medical center took in 27 patients by late afternoon Wednesday, one of whom was shot in the foot by a firearm. Those injuries are on top of more than 50 reported by the hospital's director during clashes Tuesday.

An anti-government protester is carried away after he was affected by tear gas launched by security forces, outside La Carlota airbase during clashes between the two sides in Caracas. Picture: Rodrigo Abd/AP

Maduro appeared at the socialist party rally Wednesday afternoon, saying U.S. leaders had been fooled by the opposition into believing he was about to flee Venezuela. He said the Trump administration was part of a "pot of lies" and likened the ordeal to "fake news."

He promised to put all conspirators behind bars.

"Sooner or later they'll go to jail and pay for their betrayal and their crimes," he said.

Giancarlo Morelli of the British analysis group Economist Intelligence Unit said Maduro faces peril whatever path he takes with Guaidó over the uprising attempt.

"Failing to arrest Mr. Guaidó would be perceived as an important sign for weakness from Mr. Maduro," Morelli said. "But arresting Mr. Guaidó risks a strong counter-reaction from the U.S.," which has been ratcheting up sanctions.

Anti-government protesters clash with security forces, in Caracas, Venezuela. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó called for Venezuelans to fill streets around the country to demand President Nicolás Maduro's ouster. Maduro is also calling for his supporters to rally. Picture: Fernando Llano/AP

For many Venezuelans, the turmoil has become an almost normal state of affairs.

Johanns Davila walked his dog along a street in the capital littered with shotgun shells, tear gas canisters and a charred motorcycle, the remnants of skirmishes between the opposition and state security.

"We need to get people out and recover the country," Davila said.

AP