Tuesday 22 August 2017

Rogue pilot attacks court in Venezuela 'terror plot'

Investigative police pilot Oscar Perez reading a statement from an undisclosed location. Photo: Reuters
Investigative police pilot Oscar Perez reading a statement from an undisclosed location. Photo: Reuters

Harriet Alexander

President Nicolas Maduro has denounced what he termed a "terrorist attack" on conflict-wracked Venezuela, after a stolen police helicopter piloted by a renegade policeman launched an airborne assault on the country's Supreme Court.

In extraordinary scenes in Caracas on Tuesday evening, the helicopter fired shots at the interior ministry and dropped grenades on the Supreme Court, both viewed by Venezuela's opposition as bastions of support for a dictator.

Perez posing for photographs during an event of the Body of Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigation in Caracas in 2015. Photo: Reuters
Perez posing for photographs during an event of the Body of Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigation in Caracas in 2015. Photo: Reuters

No one was injured in the incident, which came amid yet more turmoil in the country as the chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Diaz, was stripped of some of her powers, and opposition politicians were shoved and harangued by pro-government colleagues inside the National Assembly.

Samuel Moncada, Venezuela's foreign minister, lashed out at the US, the EU and Canada yesterday for failing to condemn the incident.

The government yesterday was continuing to hunt for the pilot, Oscar Perez - a budding action movie star with Hollywood looks, whose Instagram account features stills from his film 'Suspended Death', striking a series of James Bond-esque poses.

Photos of the pilot standing in front of the US Capitol in Washington and a US Coast Guard helicopter were displayed on state television, to bolster the government's case that he was taking instructions from the CIA and US embassy.

Mr Perez, however, describes himself as a Venezuelan patriot.

An investigator with Venezuela's largest police division, the CICPC, Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas, Penales y Criminalísticas, Mr Perez hung a banner from the helicopter reading '350 Libertad' - 350 Freedom - an apparent reference to the 350th article of the Venezuelan constitution, which allows for disobedience to any regime or authority that violates democratic values or human rights.

He posted a series of Instagram messages justifying the attack, flanked by masked men wielding rifles, and said that he launched the attack "against tyranny".

"We are a coalition of military personnel, police and civilians," he said, addressing the cameras in a series of posts. "This is a fight for life, for hope which we are building. It is not about vengeance: it is about justice, and our consciences, which have driven us to seek change."

He said his helicopter stunt was intended "to give the power back to the people", and demanded that Mr Maduro and his ministers resign, and hold general elections.

Some of Mr Maduro's opponents said they believed Mr Perez's stunt was engineered by Mr Maduro, to provide him with an excuse to crack down on three months of protests, which have left at least 75 people dead.

"I'm not at all convinced by the helicopter incident," said Miguel Rodriguez, a former interior minister and intelligence chief under Mr Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez, who has now turned against the government. Mr Perez worked for him as a pilot.

He said the figures behind Mr Perez looked like dolls, and said he was surprised the helicopter did not injure anyone. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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