August 8, 2018 / 3:00 PM / 4 months ago

'Real assassins!': Venezuela targets opposition after drone blasts

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela confirmed the arrest of one lawmaker and ordered the detention of another on Wednesday, accusing the opposition politicians of scheming to assassinate President Nicolas Maduro with explosives-laden drones at a rally last weekend.

Juan Guillermo and Rafaela Requesens, father and sister of the lawmaker of the Venezuelan coalition of opposition parties (MUD) Juan Requesens, talk with a police officer at the entrance of a detention centre of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) during a protest in support of him, in Caracas, Venezuela August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Adriana Loureiro

Two drones detonated during a military parade on Saturday, injuring seven officers and sending soldiers scurrying for cover during a Maduro speech broadcast live. Maduro himself was unharmed.

The pro-government Supreme Court on Wednesday said opposition leader Julio Borges, the former president of congress, was involved in the scheme and ordered his arrest. Borges, who is in the Colombian capital Bogota, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Another lawmaker, 29-year-old former student leader Juan Requesens, was arrested on Tuesday night, also in relation to the launch of two DJI M600 drones laden with C4 explosives.

“They are real assassins!” said Elvis Amoroso, the vice-president of the powerful socialist-run Constituent Assembly.

Authorities have provided scant evidence to link the lawmakers to the incident, apart from an alleged confession broadcast on state television.

Government foes said socialist Maduro was using the incident to stifle dissent and cement his power in the oil-rich nation suffering from food shortages, salary-destroying hyperinflation and frequent power cuts.

“This is a cowardly government that does not tire of persecuting, with lies, whoever thinks differently,” tweeted opposition lawmaker Jorge Millan.

“I DO NOT KNOW ABOUT TOMORROW”

Requesens’ detention further swells the ranks of opposition activists forced into exile, arrested, or barred from politics during a crackdown by Maduro, a 55-year-old former bus driver and union leader elected in 2013 to replace the late Hugo Chavez.

“Many of our brothers are outside the country, many are underground because they were killed - because you killed them, Nicolas!” Requesens had told the opposition-led congress on Tuesday before his evening arrest.

“Today I can speak to you here, but I do not know about tomorrow,” added Requesens, who was often on the forefront of massive protests against Maduro in 2014 and 2017.

Requesens’ father said the family had no information about his whereabouts, although they suspected he was locked up at the overcrowded Caracas headquarters of intelligence agency Sebin. Some lawmakers massed in front of the prison on Wednesday to demand his release.

On Wednesday chief prosecutor Tarek Saab said there were 19 people linked to the attack, with six of them behind bars. Their identities were not immediately clear and Saab did not respond to requests for details.

The government has said the incident was carried out by 11 hit men recruited during anti-Maduro demonstrations and trained across the porous border with Colombia. Authorities said financiers in Bogota and Florida promised the group $50 million and a stay in the United States in exchange for killing Maduro.

Two of the drone incident’s ringleaders were linked to last year’s attack on a military base in the city of Valencia, authorities added. A government account of the drone attack on Wednesday said the devices were set off course thanks to signal blockers at the military parade.

Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago, Andreina Aponte, and Vivian Sequera; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Alistair Bell

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