Saturday 17 March 2018

Venezuelan army crushes rebellion at military base

Members of the National Guard under attack by protesters in Venezuela’s third city, Valencia, Photo: Getty
Members of the National Guard under attack by protesters in Venezuela’s third city, Valencia, Photo: Getty

Mariana Zuniga in Caracas

A group of dissident Venezuelan soldiers claimed to have taken over an army base in the city of Valencia yesterday, calling on the people to support them in a "legitimate rebellion" against president Nicolas Maduro's "murderous tyranny".

The attempt appeared to have been quickly put down by the government, which declared it had thwarted an attack on the base by "terrorists", and that the army was now back in control.

In a video circulating on social media, a group of men in military uniform purporting to represent the 41st Armoured Brigade in Valencia had announced the start of 'Operation David', which they said was a "legitimate rebellion" against a government that was destroying the country.

Other videos appeared to show people cheering and coming out on to the streets as armoured vehicles circled the base.

There were reports of confrontations with shots fired and clouds of teargas visible in some footage.

The apparent uprising came two days after the installation of Mr Maduro's controversial constituent assembly, which is empowered to rewrite the constitution and dismiss institutions deemed hostile to the government.

On Saturday it fired Luisa Ortega Diaz, the country's rebel attorney general, and appointed a senior Chavista in her place, in a move condemned internationally as dictatorial.

Ms Ortega insisted yesterday that she remained the attorney general and could not be dismissed by an "illegitimate" assembly, which she said been elected through manipulated results and voter intimidation.

In the video message, the commander of the group, who identified himself as Captain Juan Caguaripano, called for support in his fight to defend the country's democracy.

"We clarify, this is not a coup d'etat. This is a military and civilian action to re-establish the constitutional order but what's more, to save the country from total destruction, to stop the killers of our young people and families," he said.

Diosdado Cabello, Mr Maduro's powerful second in command, said later that they had "consolidated total control" of the base after the "attack by groups of mercenary terrorists" and had detained the leader of the group.

Still, the episode highlights how volatile Venezuela is after four months of sustained anti-government protests over what foes call a lurch into dictatorship in the midst of a bruising economic crisis.

Venezuela's armed forces issued a statement calling the rebellion an ill-fated "propaganda show" aimed at destabilising the country and reaffirmed their allegiance to Mr Maduro.

Authorities said the men were working for a US-backed opposition. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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