Maduro seeks to expand armed civilian militias ahead of peaceful demonstration by the opposition

Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced plans Monday to expand the number of civilians involved in armed militias as tensions in the crisis-wracked South American nation continued to rise.

Maduro said he hopes to expand the number of civilians involved in the Bolivarian militias created by the late Hugo Chavez to 500,000, up from the current 100,000, and provide each member with a gun.

Speaking to thousands of militia members dressed in beige uniforms gathered in front of the presidential palace to mark the force's seventh anniversary, Maduro said it is time for Venezuelans to decide if they are "with the homeland" or against it. "A gun for every militiaman!" he cried.

The announcement comes as Maduro's opponents are gearing up for what they pledge will be the largest rally yet to press for elections and a host of other demands Wednesday.

Former congresswoman Maria Corina Machado posted a photo of the militia gathering Monday on her Twitter account, calling it a, "pathetic, desperate and unconstitutional attempt by the regimen to intimidate Venezuelans."

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