Venezuela law­mak­ers at­tacked

Four op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers hurt

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JOSHUA GOOD­MAN

Op­po­si­tion law­maker Americo De Grazia is led away by body­guards and a Na­tional As­sem­bly em­ployee af­ter he was in­jured in a melee with sup­posed govern­ment sup­port­ers who tried to force their way into the Na­tional As­sem­bly on Wed­nes­day dur­ing a spe­cial ses­sion co­in­cid­ing with Venezuela’s in­de­pen­dence day in Cara­cas. At least five law­mak­ers were in­jured in the at­tack. De Grazia had to be taken in a stretcher to an am­bu­lance suf­fer­ing from con­vul­sions, a law­maker said.

CARA­CAS, Venezuela — Pro-govern­ment mili­tia mem­bers wield­ing wooden sticks and metal bars stormed the con­gres­sional build­ing on Wed­nes­day and be­gan at­tack­ing op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers dur­ing a spe­cial ses­sion co­in­cid­ing with Venezuela’s in­de­pen­dence day.

Four law­mak­ers were in­jured, and blood was seen on the neo­clas­si­cal build­ing’s white walls. One of the law­mak­ers, Americo de Grazia, had to be taken to an am­bu­lance on a stretcher while he suf­fered 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.

The at­tack, in plain view of na­tional guards­men as­signed to pro­tect the leg­is­la­ture, came amid three months of of­ten-vi­o­lent 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 Na­tional As­sem­bly, ac­com­pa­nied by top govern­ment and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials, for an event cel­e­brat­ing in­de­pen­dence day.

The short ap­pear­ance by top of­fi­cials who have re­peat­edly dis­missed the leg­is­la­tors as a band of U.S.-backed con­spir­a­tors was seen by many as a provo­ca­tion.

Stand­ing next to a dis­play case hold­ing the found­ing char­ter, El Ais­sami said global pow­ers are once again try­ing to sub­ju­gate Venezuela.

“We still haven’t fin­ished defini­tively break­ing the chains of the em­pire,” he said, adding that Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s plans to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion — a move the op­po­si­tion sees as a power grab — 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’s build­ing.

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.

Maduro con­demned the vi­o­lence but com­plained that the op­po­si­tion doesn’t do enough to con­trol “ter­ror­ist at­tacks” com­mit­ted against se­cu­rity forces by anti-govern­ment pro­test­ers.

“I will never be an ac­com­plice to acts of vi­o­lence,” Maduro said dur­ing a speech at a mil­i­tary pa­rade.

The at­tack fol­lowed Tues­day’s ap­pear­ance of a five-minute video posted by a for­mer po­lice in­spec­tor who claimed to have stolen a he­li­copter and fired on two govern­ment build­ings last week.

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

Perez gave no other de­tails but pledged to join those who have been protest­ing on the streets for the past three months.

“Stop talk­ing. Get on the streets. Take ac­tion. Fight,” he said in the video, sit­ting in front of a Venezue­lan flag 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. The protests have left more than 90 peo­ple dead and hun­dreds in­jured.

Perez is said to have pi­loted the stolen po­lice he­li­copter that sprayed 15 bul­lets to­ward the In­te­rior Min­istry and dropped at least two grenades over the Supreme Court build­ing.

While Maduro claimed Perez had stolen the he­li­copter on a U.S.-backed mis­sion to oust him from power, many in the op­po­si­tion ques­tioned whether the in­ci­dent was staged by the govern­ment to dis­tract at­ten­tion from the pres­i­dent’s in­creas­ingly au­thor­i­tar­ian rule.

AP/FER­NANDO LLANO

AP/FER­NANDO LLANO

Venezue­lan pro-govern­ment mili­ti­a­men at­tack op­po­si­tion law­maker Franco Casella as they storm the con­gres­sional build­ing in Cara­cas dur­ing a spe­cial ses­sion Wed­nes­day, the coun­try’s in­de­pen­dence day.

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