Maduro supporters storm Venezuela congress, 4 injured
Clash follows video from man who attacked supreme court
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.
Opposition lawmaker Americo De Grazia was hurt in Wednesday’s melee.