Venezuelan President Maduro’s speech cut short after apparent attack

Venezuelan President Maduro's speech cut short after apparent attack


Associated Press

Published 7:16 p.m. ET Aug. 4, 2018 | Updated 10:44 p.m. ET Aug. 4, 2018

CARACAS, Venezuela – Drones armed with explosives detonated near Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in an apparent assassination attempt that took place while he was delivering a speech to hundreds of soldiers being broadcast live on television, officials said.

Caught by surprise mid-speech, Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, looked up at the sky and winced after hearing the sound of an explosion pierce the air.

“This was an attempt to kill me,” he said later in an impassioned retelling of the events. “Today they attempted to assassinate me.”

Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the incident took place shortly after 5:30 p.m. as Maduro was celebrating the National Guard’s 81st anniversary. The visibly shaken head of state said he saw a “flying device” that exploded before his eyes. He thought it might be a pyrotechnics display in honor of the event.

Within seconds, Maduro said he heard a second explosion and pandemonium ensued. Bodyguards escorted Maduro out of the event and television footage shows uniformed soldiers standing in formation quickly scattering from the scene.

He said the “far right” working in coordination with detractors in Bogota and Miami, including Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, were responsible. Some of the “material authors” of the apparent attack have been detained.

“The investigation will get to the bottom of this,” he said. “No matter who falls.”

Venezuela’s government routinely accuses opposition activists of plotting to attack and overthrow Maduro, a deeply unpopular leader who was recently elected to a new term in office in a vote decried by dozens of nations. Maduro has steadily moved to concentrate power as the nation reels from a crippling economic crisis.

In the midst of near-daily protests last year, a rogue police officer flew a stolen helicopter over the capital and launched grenades at several government buildings. Oscar Perez was later killed in a deadly gun battle after over six months on the lam.

“The right insists on violence to take public spaces that they can’t win with votes,” Diosdado Cabello, a high-ranking socialist party leader, wrote on Twitter Saturday after the apparent assault, which he characterized as a “terrorist attack.”

Firefighters at the scene of the blast disputed the government’s version of events. Three local authorities said there had been a gas tank explosion inside an apartment near Maduro’s speech where smoke could be seen streaming out of a window. They provided no further details on how they had reached that conclusion.

A Colombian official with the president’s office described Maduro’s claims that Santos was involved in the attack as baseless.

Adding to the confusion, a previously unknown group calling itself Soldiers in T-shirts claimed responsibility, saying it planned to fly two drones loaded with explosives at the president, but government soldiers shot them down before reaching its target. The Associated Press could not independently verify the authenticity of the message.

David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America who has spent decades researching Venezuela, said the incident did not appear to be a staged attack by Maduro’s government for political gain.

The “amateurish” attack prompted embarrassing images of Maduro cut off mid-sentence with droves of soldiers running away in fear, making the president appear vulnerable, Smilde noted. Despite the optics, Smilde said he suspected that Maduro would nonetheless find a way to take advantage of it.

“He will use it to concentrate power,” Smilde said. “Whoever did this, he’ll use it to further restrict liberty and purge the government and armed forces.”

 

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