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Maduro says Venezuela's civil militia grows to 1.6 million members

Maduro says Venezuela's civil militia grows to 1.6 million members
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a news conference at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello -
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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Monday the country's civil militia had grown to 1.6 million members - more than tripling in size from the beginning of the year - and that its mission was to defend the country against external aggression.

Maduro's speech to militia members, broadcast on state television, came less than a week after the socialist leader, without offering evidence, accused the United States of plotting to invade the South American country, which is experiencing a severe economic crisis.

"We will arm the Bolivarian militia to the teeth," Maduro said, without detailing how many of the militia members were actually armed. "An invading imperialist force may enter a part of our fatherland, but the imperialists should know that they will not leave here alive."

The National Bolivarian Militia is a reserve force composed of civilian volunteers, founded by former President Hugo Chavez in 2008 to assist the armed forces.

Maduro noted on Monday that he had given an order in April to boost the size of the reserve force to 1 million members. At the time, he said the militias had "nearly 400,000" members.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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