Venezuela leader angry over ‘drone attack’

Venezuela leader angry over ‘drone attack’

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Media captionFootage showed dozens of soldiers running away before the transmission was cut off

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro says the perpetrators of what he says was an assassination attempt against him will face “maximum punishment”.

He was speaking at a military event in Caracas when the alleged attack, involving explosive drones, occurred.

He has blamed Colombia for the incident but provided no evidence. Colombia said the accusation was “baseless”.

The government has also pointed the finger at the opposition, prompting fears of a new crackdown.

  • Venezuela’s leader Nicolás Maduro divides opinion
  • Venezuela crisis: How did we get here?

Many opposition leaders have already left the country citing government harassment and there are reported to be more than 200 political prisoners in the country’s jails.

What is known about the alleged attack?

The incident happened when Mr Maduro was speaking at an event to mark the anniversary of the national guard.

A bang is heard and footage of his speech shows the president suddenly looking upwards and dozens of soldiers running away.

Image copyright AFP

Image caption Mr Maduro was speaking at a military ceremony when the incident happened

Two drones loaded with explosives went off near the president’s stand, Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said.

Seven soldiers were injured, and several people were later arrested, the Venezuelan authorities said.

Later Mr Maduro said the incident had strengthened his resolve.

“I am fine, I am alive, and after this attack I’m more determined than ever to follow the path of the revolution,” he said.

“Justice! Maximum punishment! And there will be no forgiveness.”

Who could be behind this?

Mr Maduro accused neighbouring Colombia and elements within the US of instigating “a right-wing plot” to kill him.

The Colombian government has denied any involvement, saying there is “no basis” to Mr Maduro’s allegations.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton denied any US involvement in the incident, adding that it could be “a pretext set up by the regime itself”.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images

Image caption Charred windows were seen near the place where President Maduro was speaking

Mr Rodriguez accused Venezuela’s right-wing opposition of carrying out the attack.

“After losing the vote, they failed again,” Mr Rodriguez said.

He was referring to May’s presidential elections, where Mr Maduro was re-elected for another six-year term.

  • Maduro wins second term amid claims of vote rigging

However, Hasler Inglesias, a youth leader with the opposition Voluntad Popular Party, told the BBC: “It’s hard to believe that the opposition is going to make an attempt when they have never made an attempt in this way in 20 years.”

Meanwhile, a little-known group called Soldiers in T-shirts said on social media that it was behind the alleged attack.

The claim was not backed up by any evidence, and the group did not respond to media requests for comment.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images

Image caption Soldiers sealed off the area after the alleged attack

To add further to the confusion, firefighters at the scene disputed the government’s version of events, the Associated Press reports.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, three of them said the incident was actually a gas tank explosion inside an apartment, but did not provide further details, the news agency says.

Analysis: Conspiracy theories abound

By Katy Watson, BBC South America correspondent

There are still lots of unanswered questions in this, the latest plot twist in surreal Venezuela.

President Maduro and his people often accuse the opposition, Colombia or the US of trying to sabotage his government.

Much like last year when a helicopter attacked the Supreme Court in what Nicolás Maduro called a “terrorist” attack, conspiracy theories will abound – and already different versions of events are being circulated.

In a country where it’s hard to operate as a journalist and where freedom of speech isn’t respected, getting to the truth is hard.

What many people fear though is that the government will use this incident to justify a crackdown on any political opponents.

Who is President Maduro?

Mr Maduro has managed to split opinion almost as much as his predecessor in office, Hugo Chávez.

Since assuming office in 2013, Mr Maduro’s administration has drawn widespread condemnation from a string of nations worldwide for undermining democracy and violating human rights in his country.

  • Nicolás Maduro divides opinion
  • How Venezuela’s crisis developed and worsened

His opponents paint him as a ruthless despot who detains his political rivals on overly harsh charges pressed by a judiciary under his party’s control, while his followers say he is protecting the country from another coup.

His re-election in May came amid a deep economic crisis which has been driving hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans from the oil-rich country.

However, there is still a loyal core of people who support Mr Maduro and his United Socialist Party (PSUV), saying Venezuela’s problems are caused not by the government but by forces such as the US.

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