Venezuela’s Maduro says drone blast was bid to kill him, blames Colombia

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In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, security personnel surround Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro during an incident as he was giving a speech in Caracas, Venezuela. (AP)

Venezuela’s information minister says several drones loaded with explosives exploded close to where President Maduro was speaking.

At least one explosion rocked a military event where Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was giving a speech on Saturday and the government said it was a failed assassination attempt involving drones carrying explosives.

Maduro said “everything points” to a right-wing plot that initial investigation suggested was linked to Colombia and the U.S. state of Florida, where many Venezuelan exiles live. Several perpetrators were caught, he said, without elaborating.

Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said drones loaded with explosives detonated close to the military event in downtown Caracas. A Venezuelan who was visiting family nearby told Reuters she heard two explosions.

Maduro, a leftist who replaced President Hugo Chavez after his death in 2013, was unharmed but Rodriguez said seven National Guard soldiers were injured.

“This was an assassination attempt, they tried to assassinate me,” Maduro said in a later televised address.

Juan Carlos Lamas spoke to TRT World from Caracas about the events that unfolded.

A little-known group called the “National Movement of Soldiers in T-shirts” claimed responsibility for the attack. In a series of posts on social media, the group said it had planned to fly two drones but that snipers shot them down.

“We demonstrated that they are vulnerable. We didn’t have success today, but it’s just a question of time,” said the group, which says it was founded in 2014 to bring together all of Venezuela’s “groups of resistance.”

The group did not respond to several requests for information from Reuters.

Maduro won a new six-year term in May but his main rivals disavowed the election and alleged massive irregularities.

Venezuela is suffering under the fifth year of a severe economic crisis that has sparked malnutrition, hyperinflation and mass emigration.

Maduro named Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as being behind the attack, but gave no evidence to back that up.

“The name of Juan Manuel Santos is behind this attack … the initial investigations point to Bogota,” Maduro said.

A Colombian government source said Maduro’s allegation was “absurd” and that Santos was celebrating his granddaughter’s baptism on Saturday. “He is not thinking of anything else, least of all bringing down foreign governments,” the source said.

During the incident, Maduro was speaking about Venezuela’s economy in an address when audio of the live television coverage was suddenly cut off.

Startled

Maduro and others on the podium looked up startled and the cameras panned to soldiers who had been lined up in formation in the street. Scores of them ran in panic away from one area.

Caught by surprise mid-speech, Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, looked up at the sky and winced Saturday 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.”

Photographs on social media appeared to show bodyguards shielding Maduro with black bulletproof panels. A photograph also showed an injured military official clutching his bloody head and being held up by colleagues.

OPEC member Venezuela’s once-thriving socialist economy has collapsed since the 2014 fall of oil prices.

The self-described “son” of Chavez, former bus driver Maduro says he is battling an “imperialist” plot to destroy socialism and take over Venezuela’s oil. Opponents accuse him of authoritarianism, saying he has destroyed a once-wealthy economy and ruthlessly crushed dissent.

Financiers live in Florida

Maduro said initial investigations indicated that “several of those intellectually responsible and the financiers of this attack live in the United States, in the state of Florida.” He called on U.S. President Donald Trump to “fight these terrorist groups.”

A senior State Department official said: “We’ve heard the reports coming out of Venezuela. We are carefully following the situation.”

Last year, a rogue Venezuelan police officer hijacked a helicopter and fired at government buildings in what he said was an action against a dictator. The officer was hunted down and killed by Venezuelan forces.

International reaction

Fahrettin Altun, the Communications Director for the Turkish Presidency, said: “We condemn the assassination attempt against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Turkey stands with the people of Venezuela and their democratically elected leader. We wish a speedy recovery to Mr. President and Venezuela.”

Fahrettin Altun

@fahrettinaltun_

We condemn the assassination attempt against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Turkey stands with the people of Venezuela and their democratically elected leader.

We wish a speedy recovery to Mr. President and Venezuela.

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Bolivian President Evo Morales said: “This attempt at assassination, which is a crime against humanity, only shows the desperation of an empire defeated by a brave people. Our solidarity.”

Evo Morales Ayma

@evoespueblo

Repudiamos enérgicamente una nueva agresión y cobarde atentado contra el Hno. Pdte. @NicolasMaduro y el pueblo bolivariano. Después del fracaso en su intento por derrocarlo democrática, económica, política y militarmente, ahora el imperio y sus sirvientes atentan contra su vida.

Evo Morales Ayma

@evoespueblo

Este intento de magnicidio, que es un delito de lesa humanidad, solo muestra la desesperación de un imperio derrotado por un pueblo valiente. Nuestra solidaridad. ¡Fuerza hermano presidente @NicolasMaduro y pueblo bolivariano!

 Source: TRTWorld and agencies
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