Maduro sup­port­ers storm Venezuela congress, 4 in­jured

Clash fol­lows video from man who at­tacked supreme court

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - JOSHUA GOOD­MAN

Pro-gov­ern­ment mili­tias wield­ing wooden sticks and metal bars stormed congress on Wed­nes­day and be­gan at­tack­ing op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers dur­ing a spe­cial ses­sion co­in­cid­ing with Venezuela’s in­de­pen­dence day.

Four law­mak­ers were in­jured. One of them, Americo de Grazia, had to be taken in a stretcher to an am­bu­lance suf­fer­ing from con­vul­sions, said a fel­low con­gress­man.

“This doesn’t hurt as much as watch­ing how ev­ery day how we lose a lit­tle bit more of our coun­try,” Ar­mando Arias said from in­side an am­bu­lance as he was be­ing treated for head wounds that spilled blood across his clothes.

The at­tack, in plain view of na­tional guards­men as­signed to pro­tect the leg­is­la­ture, comes amid three months of of­ten­vi­o­lent con­fronta­tions be­tween se­cu­rity forces and pro­test­ers who ac­cuse the gov­ern­ment of try­ing to es­tab­lish a dic­ta­tor­ship by jail­ing foes, push­ing aside the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled leg­is­la­ture and rewrit­ing the con­sti­tu­tion to avoid fair elec­tions.

Ten­sions were al­ready high af­ter Vice-Pres­i­dent Tareck El Ais­sami made an unan­nounced morn­ing visit to the leg­is­la­ture, ac­com­pa­nied by top gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials, for an event cel­e­brat­ing in­de­pen­dence day.

Stand­ing next to a dis­play case hold­ing Venezuela’s dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence from Spain, he said global pow­ers are once again try­ing to sub­ju­gate Venezuela.

“We still haven’t fin­ished defini­tively break­ing the chains of the em­pire,” El Ais­sami said, adding that Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s plans to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion — a move the op­po­si­tion sees as a pow­er­grab — of­fers Venezuela the best chance to be truly in­de­pen­dent.

Af­ter he left, dozens of gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers set up a picket out­side the build­ing, heck­ling law­mak­ers with men­ac­ing chants and even­tu­ally in­vad­ing the leg­is­la­ture them­selves.

De­spite the vi­o­lence, law­mak­ers ap­proved a plan by the op­po­si­tion to hold a sym­bolic ref­er­en­dum on July 16 that would give vot­ers the chance to re­ject Maduro’s plans to draft a new po­lit­i­cal char­ter.

Later Maduro con­demned the vi­o­lence, call­ing for a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion dur­ing a speech while at­tend­ing a mil­i­tary pa­rade.

The clash fol­lowed Tues­day’s ap­pear­ance of a five-minute video posted by a for­mer po­lice in­spec­tor who al­legedly stole a he­li­copter and fired on two gov­ern­ment build­ings last week.

Os­car Perez, re­peat­ing a call for re­bel­lion among the se­cu­rity forces, said that he was in Caracas af­ter aban­don­ing the he­li­copter along the Caribbean coast and was ready for the “sec­ond phase” of his cam­paign to free his home­land from what he called the cor­rupt rule of Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro and his “as­sas­sin” al­lies.

“Stop talk­ing. Get on the streets. Take ac­tion. Fight,” he said in the video, sit­ting be­fore a Venezue­lan flag and with what looks like an as­sault ri­fle by his side. He also de­nounced Maduro’s plan to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion.

“If this con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly goes through, Venezuela will cease to ex­ist be­cause we’ll have given away the coun­try to the Cubans,” he said.

The bold though largely harm­less June 27 at­tack shocked Venezue­lans who had grown ac­cus­tomed to al­most-daily clashes since April be­tween of­ten-vi­o­lent youth pro­test­ers and se­cu­rity forces that have left more than 90 peo­ple dead and hun­dreds in­jured.

Perez pi­loted the stolen po­lice he­li­copter that sprayed 15 bul­lets to­ward the In­te­rior Min­istry and dropped at least two grenades over the supreme court.

FER­NANDO LLANO, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Op­po­si­tion law­maker Americo De Grazia was hurt in Wed­nes­day’s melee.

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