Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro cut diplomatic ties with the United States on Wednesday and gave American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country after the Donald Trump administration recognised the claims of an Opposition leader who stood in the streets of Capital city Caracas and declared himself the president, The New York Times reported.

Juan Guaidó, the Opposition leader who declared himself president, has led protests against Maduro in the last few days. Thirteen people have died since Monday, the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict told AFP. Most of the deaths were from gunshot wounds.

The protests had started on Monday when 27 soldiers in Caracas defied Maduro and asked people to take to the streets. Anti-riot police confronted the protestors in Caracas on Wednesday after Guaidó called a march. Clashes followed, with the military firing tear gas and rubber bullets, and protestors throwing stones.

Meanwhile, Maduro dismissed Guaidó’s claim to the presidency, calling it part of an American-led conspiracy to oust him. “I am the only president of Venezuela,” Maduro said. “We do not want to return to the 20th century of gringo interventions and coups d’etats.”

In response, the US state department said it “does not consider former President Nicolas Maduro to have the legal authority to break diplomatic relations with the US or to declare our diplomats persona non grata”.

“The United States stands with interim President Juan Guaidó, the democratically elected National Assembly, and the people of Venezuela as they peacefully restore constitutional order to their country,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “We stand ready to support interim President Guaido as he establishes a transitional government and carries out his constitutional duties as interim President, including determining the status of diplomatic representatives in the United States and other countries.”

A number of South American countries, including Brazil, Colombia and Peru, have also recognised Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president, BBC reported. Guaidó has called on the armed forces – who have so far backed Maduro – to disobey the government.

The political and diplomatic crisis comes amid mass protests against Maduro, under whose rule the country has been in an economic freefall. Hyperinflation, power cuts and shortages of basic items have driven millions of people out of Venezuela.