Caracas (AFP) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called Tuesday for Pope Francis's support against a "military threat" from the United States, as international pressure mounts over the deadly political crisis Caracas is facing.
"May the pope help us prevent Trump from sending troops to invade Venezuela," Maduro told a news conference. "I ask for the pope's help against the military threat from the United States."
Maduro has faced months of deadly mass protests by opponents who blame him for an economic crisis and are demanding elections to replace him.
International pressure has also grown, with US President Donald Trump even saying this month that the United States reserved the option of military intervention in the Venezuela crisis.
Maduro pointedly highlighted his alliance with Russia, which had rejected Trump's recent threat as "unacceptable."
The Venezuelan leader said he wanted to "keep strengthening the military cooperation agreement" between the two countries "for the sovereign defense of Venezuela."
Russia recently sold fighter jets and ground to air missiles to Venezuela.
"Venezuela has the full and absolute support of Russia," he said, adding that he would soon go to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Maduro has called for military drills next weekend as a show of strength after Trump's threat.
The United States has applied economic sanctions directly targeting Maduro.
He says the economic collapse that has dragged his country into crisis is a US-backed conspiracy.
The opposition blames his economic management for the crisis.
Since Maduro was elected in 2013, Venezuela has descended into chaos that has raised fears for regional stability.
The fall in world prices for its oil exports has left it short of dollars for imports of food and medicine.
Venezuela is the third-biggest seller of oil to the United States, which is the destination for 42 percent of the South American country's crude exports.