Venezuela army re­pels at­tack, hunts as­sailants

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Venezuela’s mil­i­tary was hunt­ing a group of “mer­ce­nar­ies” yes­ter­day who made off with weapons af­ter an at­tack on an army base car­ried out against what they called the “mur­der­ous tyranny” of Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro. Around 20 men led by an army of­fi­cer who had de­serted bat­tled troops in the base in the third city of Va­len­cia for three hours early Sun­day, of­fi­cials said.

The raid ended with two of the at­tack­ers be­ing killed and eight cap­tured, Maduro said on state tele­vi­sion. The other 10 es­caped with weapons taken from the fa­cil­ity, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials who said an “in­tense search” was un­der­way for them. Maduro claimed the “ter­ror­ist” group had ties to Colom­bia and the United States.

The in­ci­dent height­ened fears that Venezuela’s deep­en­ing po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic cri­sis could ex­plode into greater vi­o­lence, per­haps open armed con­flict. Of­fi­cials in­sisted after­ward that all was nor­mal across the coun­try. Mil­i­tary he­li­copters flew over­head and tac­ti­cal ar­mored ve­hi­cles pa­trolled the streets in Va­len­cia, a ma­jor north­west­ern city, in a cli­mate of ten­sion on Sun­day af­ter the at­tack.

Lo­cals said a night­time cur­few was im­posed. Po­lice dis­persed pro­test­ers who had set up flam­ing bar­ri­cades across roads. The armed forces said in a state­ment “a group of civil­ian crim­i­nals wear­ing mil­i­tary uni­forms and a first lieu­tenant who had de­serted” car­ried out the at­tack. Maduro said the lieu­tenant, among those cap­tured, was “ac­tively giv­ing in­for­ma­tion and we have tes­ti­mony from seven of the civil­ians.”

Loyal mil­i­tary chiefs

Maduro con­grat­u­lated the army for its “im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion” in put­ting down the at­tack, say­ing they earned his “ad­mi­ra­tion.” Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion has re­peat­edly urged the mil­i­tary to aban­don Maduro. But De­fense Min­is­ter Vladimir Padrino, the head of the armed forces, has said the mil­i­tary’s loy­alty was un­shak­able. In a video posted on­line just be­fore the at­tack, a man pre­sent­ing him­self as an army cap­tain named Juan Caguar­i­pano de­clared a “le­git­i­mate re­bel­lion... to re­ject the mur­der­ous tyranny of Ni­co­las Maduro.”

Speak­ing with 15 men in cam­ou­flage stand­ing by him, some of them armed, he de­manded a tran­si­tional gov­ern­ment and “free elec­tions.” It was not known if he was the lieu­tenant re­ferred to in the mil­i­tary state­ment, de­moted for de­sert­ing, or whether he was an­other rene­gade of­fi­cer. That state­ment said the lieu­tenant in­volved had de­serted three years ago and taken refuge in Mi­ami, in the US state of Florida.

Venezuela has be­come in­creas­ingly iso­lated in­ter­na­tion­ally as Maduro tight­ens his hold on power through a con­tested loy­al­ist as­sem­bly that started work this week. The op­po­si­tion, which con­trols the leg­is­la­ture, has been side­lined. Its lead­ers are un­der threat of ar­rest af­ter or­ga­niz­ing protests­fiercely coun­tered by se­cu­rity forces-that have left 125 peo­ple dead in the past four months. The new Con­stituent As­sem­bly, packed with Maduro al­lies in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent’s wife and son, has quickly used its supreme pow­ers to clamp down on dis­sent. On Sat­ur­day, it or­dered the dis­missal of the at­tor­ney gen­eral, Luisa Ortega, who had bro­ken ranks with Maduro to be­come one of his most vo­cif­er­ous crit­ics. — AFP

VA­LEN­CIA: An anti-gov­ern­ment ac­tivist shows bul­let cases dur­ing a protest in Venezuela’s third city, Va­len­cia, on Au­gust 6, 2017, a day af­ter a new as­sem­bly with supreme pow­ers and loyal to Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro started func­tion­ing in the coun­try. —AFP

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