Brasilia: Military police surrounded Venezuela's embassy in Brazil Wednesday as rival supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaido and President Nicolas Maduro faced off inside in a struggle for control of the diplomatic compound.
The embassy drama unfolded as President Jair Bolsonaro met nearby at the foreign ministry with China's President Xi Jinping ahead of a summit of the BRICS countries.
It was not immediately clear which side was in control of the embassy. A Brazilian foreign ministry representative was inside the compound in an attempt to end the stand-off.
Guaido's appointed ambassador Teresa Belandria said in a statement that staff members at the embassy "voluntarily" opened its doors early Wednesday to officials working for her.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the embassy, many of them supporters of Brazil's left-wing Workers Party, yelling "Viva Maduro," "Drug dealer Guaido" and "Free Lula," the Brazilian leftist icon released from jail on Friday.
The last Maduro-appointed ambassador to Brazil was withdrawn in 2016.
In her statement, Belandria asked that all accredited officials at the embassy and Venezuela's seven consulates in Brazil recognize Guaido as the legitimate president.
More than 50 countries, including Brazil, recognized the Venezuelan opposition leader as acting president earlier this year after rejecting Maduro's re-election as fraudulent.
BRICS titans China and Russia, however, back Maduro. "Upon entering the headquarters, we could verify that a group of officials was living in the official residence," said Belandria, who is not inside the embassy.
Freddy Menegotti, a senior embassy official loyal to Maduro, said "strangers to our facilities are entering and are violating the Venezuelan territory," according to a voice recording sent to the PT and shared with AFP.
"We need help, we need the immediate activation of all social movements and political parties," Menegotti said.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza condemned what he described as an invasion of the embassy. "We hold the Government of Brazil responsible for the safety of our staff and facilities," Arreaza tweeted.
"It is a delicate situation," said Paulo Pimenta, a member of PT, in a voice recording sent to AFP via WhatsApp. Pimenta said he was among 10 Brazilians to enter the embassy in the morning.
Eduardo Bolsonaro, one of the president's sons and a member of Congress, tweeted: "The left has gone to the door of the Venezuelan embassy in Brazil, (what) I want to see is for them to go to Venezuela to live as ordinary Venezuelan citizens."
Venezuela's economy has been devastated by a political and economic crisis that has forced millions to flee, many of them into neighboring Brazil.
The BRICS summit will be the first time Bolsonaro, notoriously awkward at public events, has hosted a major international gathering since he took office in January.
Bolsonaro — an ardent admirer of US President Donald Trump with whom he shares a contempt for multilateralism and left-wing ideology — is under pressure from Brazil's powerful beef, farming and mining sectors to stay on good terms with China, the Latin American country's biggest trade partner.
Moscow and Beijing have been major lenders to Caracas in exchange for oil supplies.
Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Maduro in Moscow in September, where he reiterated support for his Venezuelan counterpart and called on all sides to end the country's crisis.