Venezuela has ordered the armed forces to hold military exercises in response to the UK’s decision to send a warship to support neighbouring Guyana.

Military leaders said 5,600 soldiers would take part in “defensive” exercises on Venezuela’s eastern Caribbean and Atlantic coasts.

Earlier this month, Venezuelan voters backed the creation of a new state in oil-rich Essequibo.

Guyana has administered the area for decades.

In a television address on Thursday, President Nicolás Maduro said the exercises were being launched “in response to the provocation and threat of the United Kingdom against peace and the sovereignty of our country”.

He added that the move was “practically a military threat from London” and broke the “spirit” of a recent agreement reached between Venezuela and Guyana not to use force to settle their dispute.

Guyanese Vice-President Bharrat Jagdeo said the ship’s presence was “routine” and part of building a “defensive capability”.

“We don’t plan on invading Venezuela. President Maduro knows this and he need not have any worry about that,” he told a press conference.

On Sunday, the UK confirmed HMS Trent would take part in joint exercises with Guyana after Christmas.

It had been deployed to the Caribbean to search for drug smugglers but was re-tasked after Venezuela’s government threatened to annex the Essequibo region of Guyana.

Venezuela has long claimed ownership of Essequibo, a 61,000 sq-mile region which comprises about two-thirds of Guyana.

It disputes the border which was established under an international agreement in 1899.

Guyana, and British Guiana before it, have administered Essequibo for more than a century.

BBC/Simeon Ugbodovon

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