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Tuesday 21 January 2020

President demands 'maximum penalty' for 'terrorist attack' on army base

Soldiers stop a vehicle, whose passengers kneel on the ground outside the car, at the Paramacay military base in Valencia (AP Photo/Juan Carlos Hernandez)
Soldiers stop a vehicle, whose passengers kneel on the ground outside the car, at the Paramacay military base in Valencia (AP Photo/Juan Carlos Hernandez)

President Nicolas Maduro has vowed that anti-government fighters who attacked a Venezuelan army base will get the "maximum penalty" as his administration roots out his enemies.

Troops killed two of the 20 intruders who slipped into the Paramacay base in the central city of Valencia early on Sunday, apparently intent on fomenting a military uprising, Mr Maduro said in his weekly broadcast on state television.

One of the invaders was injured, seven captured and 10 got away, the embattled leader said.

"We know where they are headed and all of our military and police force is deployed," Mr Maduro said.

He said he would ask for "the maximum penalty for those who participated in this terrorist attack".

The attack came as Venezuela's controversial constitutional assembly is getting down to work, signalling in its initial decrees last week that delegates will target Mr Maduro's foes as he had warned.

The new assembly, whose powers supersede all other branches of government, voted to remove the nation's outspoken chief prosecutor on Saturday.

On Sunday, Mr Maduro announced that a new "truth commission" created by the assembly had been installed to impose justice on those fuelling the unrest that has wracked the country since early April.

The constitutional assembly is expected to meet again on Tuesday, while MPs in the opposition-controlled National Assembly scheduled their own session for Monday, pledging to continue fulfilling their responsibilities no matter what the assembly might do.

Leaders of opposition groups, which boycotted the July 30 assembly election, called for renewed protests on Monday, though turnout at demonstrations has been sparse in recent days.

Residents who live near the army base in Valencia attacked on Sunday said they began hearing bursts of gunfire around 4.30am.

A video showing more than a dozen men dressed in military fatigues, some carrying rifles, began circulating widely on social media around that time.

In the recording, a man who identified himself as Captain Juan Caguaripano said they were members of the military who oppose Mr Maduro's socialist government and called on military units to declare themselves in open rebellion.

"This is not a coup d'etat," the man said. "This is a civic and military action to re-establish the constitutional order."

Mr Maduro said 20 men entered the base and managed to reach the weapons depot undetected, but then an alarm sounded alerting troops to the incursion.

He said 10 of the invaders fled, some carrying off arms, while those left behind exchanged gunfire with soldiers until about 8am before all were either killed or captured.

"Today we had to defeat terrorism with bullets," Mr Maduro said.

More than 120 people have been reported killed in four months of unrest that has been fuelled by anger at the socialist government over food shortages, soaring inflation and high crime.

Defence minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez characterised the attackers as a "paramilitary" expedition, saying the intruders were civilians dressed in uniforms.

He did not identify any of the participants, but said they included a lieutenant who had abandoned his post.

He said the man who recorded the video was a former officer dismissed three years ago after being charged with rebellion and betraying the homeland.

In 2014, Capt Caguaripano released a 12-minute video denouncing Mr Maduro during a previous wave of anti-government unrest.

He later reportedly sought exile after a military tribunal ordered his arrest, appearing in an interview on CNN en Espanol to draw attention to what he said was discontent within military ranks.

Opposition leaders have urged the military, which historically has served as an arbiter of Venezuela's political disputes, to break with Mr Maduro over what his enemies consider violations of the constitution.

But the president is believed to still have the military's support.


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