Miss­ing Venezue­lan chop­per pilot be­hind grenade at­tack reap­pears

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A Venezue­lan he­li­copter pilot who van­ished af­ter drop­ping grenades on the Supreme Court has reap­peared in an on­line video, as jus­tices yes­ter­day con­sid­ered whether to hold a trial that would re­move the coun­try’s de­fi­ant chief prose­cu­tor. Os­car Perez-who claims sup­port from mem­bers of the mil­i­tary, po­lice and public ser­vants-urged Venezue­lans in the video posted late Tues­day to “stand firm in the streets” in their protests against so­cial­ist Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro.

At least 91 peo­ple have been killed in street protests that have rocked the so­cial­ist Maduro gov­ern­ment over the past three months. On Tues­day anti-gov­ern­ment pro­test­ers blocked streets in Caracas and else­where. Pro­test­ers blame Maduro for Venezuela’s des­per­ate eco­nomic cri­sis. He blames the chaos on a US-backed con­spir­acy. While Perez’s dra­matic ac­tions may be a sideshow in the coun­try’s deadly po­lit­i­cal cri­sis, the pos­si­ble des­ti­tu­tion of chief prose­cu­tor Luisa Ortega-the most se­nior fig­ure to defy Maduro-sug­gests a split in the gov­ern­ment that could tip the bal­ance of power.

Ortega de­fi­ant

Ortega, 59, re­fused to ap­pear in court Tues­day in a case she says was trumped up by the au­thor­i­ties af­ter she de­fied Maduro.”I am not go­ing con­done a cir­cus that will stain our his­tory with shame and pain and whose de­ci­sion is fore­told,” Ortega told re­porters. “I have com­mit­ted no crime nor er­rors and I am not go­ing to sub­mit to this un­con­sti­tu­tional and il­le­git­i­mate court,” she said. “We al­ready know that to­day I will be re­moved from my post.” Ortega ac­cuses Maduro of vi­o­lat­ing the con­sti­tu­tion with his plan to hold a special assem­bly to re­write the doc­u­ment.

Op­po­nents say this “con­stituent assem­bly” will be packed with al­lies that will al­low him to cling to power. She had ear­lier ac­cused the pro-gov­ern­ment Supreme Court of un­der­min­ing democ­racy through a short-lived rul­ing that seized power from the op­po­si­tion­led leg­is­la­ture. That rul­ing helped spark the cur­rent wave of protests.

As vi­o­lence swelled, Ortega ac­cused po­lice of killing pro­test­ers-com­ments that en­raged Maduro, who branded her a traitor. Pro-gov­ern­ment law­maker Pe­dro Car­reno has filed charges against Ortega, al­leg­ing “se­ri­ous er­rors in the car­ry­ing out of her func­tions.” He also al­leged she was suf­fer­ing from “in­san­ity” and should be fired. The court held its hear­ing Tues­day in her ab­sence and said af­ter­wards it would de­cide within five days whether to send her to trial and sus­pend her from of­fice.

Movie star pilot

In the video, 36-year-old Perez, who is also an elite cop and movie ac­tor, urged the pro­test­ers not to give up. “The mo­ment is now, not to­mor­row. The mo­ment to wake up is now,” he says. “Let’s stand firm in the streets.” On June 27, Perez and uniden­ti­fied ac­com­plices flew over Caracas in a po­lice he­li­copter and dropped four grenades on the Supreme Court be­fore open­ing fire on the in­te­rior min­istry. There were no ca­su­al­ties. Perez ap­peared in a video re­leased on­line around the time of the at­tacks flanked by four masked fig­ures in black-two of them hold­ing ri­fles-call­ing for an up­ris­ing. He claimed sup­port from mem­bers of the armed forces and bu­reau­cracy op­posed to the “crim­i­nal gov­ern­ment.” Maduro branded the raid a “ter­ror­ist at­tack” and part of an “es­ca­la­tion” by rightwing “coup” plot­ters. He also put the mil­i­tary on alert.

In Tues­day’s video, Perez said the at­tacks were car­ried out as planned. “We only dam­aged struc­tures ... there was no col­lat­eral dam­age be­cause that’s what was planned, be­cause we’re not mur­der­ers... like you, Mr. Maduro,” Perez says, point­ing at the camera. Perez said his group would join the protests. “We will go out in the streets and will be with you. You are not alone,” he said. The op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic Unity Round­table (MUD) coali­tion has dis­tanced it­self from the at­tack. Many peo­ple sus­pect that Perez might be a front­man hired by the gov­ern­ment to jus­tify its crack­down on op­po­nents.—AFP

CARACAS: Demon­stra­tors fire a sling­shot dur­ing clashes with se­cu­rity forces in Caracas, Venezuela. — AP

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