Monday 21 October 2019

Violence erupts in Venezuela

Teargas used on Guaidó supporters as he bids to oust Maduro

Fire on the streets: A supporter of Juan Guaidó arms himself with a stone in front of a burning bus near Caracas
Fire on the streets: A supporter of Juan Guaidó arms himself with a stone in front of a burning bus near Caracas

Ben Riley-Smith

Violent clashes broke out in Venezuela's capital as Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader, and his supporters took to the streets calling for a military uprising.

Thousands of protesters in Caracas were tear-gassed yesterday and an armoured vehicle rammed into the crowd, appearing to leave some people injured.

Earlier in the day, Mr Guaidó, who has declared himself interim president, released a video of himself alongside around a dozen soldiers who he claimed had defected.

He praised the "brave soldiers" and urged more to do likewise, saying the "final push" toward removing Nicolás Maduro, the embattled socialist president, was under way.

Leopoldo López, a fellow opposition politician, was also in the video despite being under house arrest since 2017. He claimed forces loyal to Mr Guaidó had released him.

Mr Maduro's government labelled the move an attempted "coup", a description echoed by supportive politicians abroad and vowed to crack down on the "military traitors".

Opposition activists clash with security forces near the Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase in Caracas. Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
Opposition activists clash with security forces near the Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase in Caracas. Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

Mr Maduro later said military leaders had assured him they remained loyal. There were few public signs that Mr Guaidó's call had triggered a broader revolt among commanders.

Senior US administration figures gave their vocal backing, with Mike Pence, the vice-president, Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, and John Bolton, the national security adviser, all issuing supportive statements.

But António Guterres, the UN secretary general, urged "maximum restraint" on all sides, while the body's spokesman said the dispute must be resolved "peacefully".

Sir Alan Duncan, the UK minister for the Americas, said he was watching events "very closely", adding that Mr Guaidó had shown "courage, creativity and resolution".

Mr Guaidó and his supporters gathered near the Generalissimo Francisco de Miranda air base, the military airport in Caracas where his video appeared to have been shot.

Around 70 soldiers wearing blue armbands in support for Mr Guaidó reportedly squared off against regime security forces. One pro-Guaidó solider was injured in the clashes.

As more supporters joined, the scenes turned increasingly ugly. Footage showed water cannon being used on the crowds and, at one moment, a military vehicle crashed into people.

The call for a military uprising was the boldest attempt yet by Mr Guaidó, who cited constitutional powers back in January to declare himself interim president, to force Mr Maduro from power.

His claim has been supported by the United States and more than 50 other countries, some of whom have implemented sanctions. But others, including Russia, back Mr Maduro.

In the video, Mr Guaidó (35) spoke directly to the camera as more than a dozen soldiers dressed in military uniform, some holding guns, stood to attention behind him.

"Today, brave soldiers, brave patriots, brave men loyal to the constitution have followed our call," said Mr Guaidó, who is also president of the country's national assembly. He called on people to take to the streets all over Venezuela and claimed that "the definitive end of the usurpation starts today".

He added: "Today, as the caretaker president of Venezuela, as the legitimate commander-in-chief of the armed forces, I call on all soldiers, the military family, to accompany us in this mission."

There were reports the action was taken earlier than planned because Mr Guaido feared imminent arrest.

Soon after the video was posted online, the move was condemned by Vladimir Padrino, the Venezuelan defence minister.

Mr Maduro's opponents hope the military will change allegiance following years of hyperinflation, power cuts, food and medicine shortages. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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