A crowd of people believed to have been the supporters of the Venezuelan government have stormed the opposition-held Congress in the capital, Caracas
, beating and injuring lawmakers in the latest escalation of violence in the Latin American country.
Hundreds of people wielding wooden sticks and metal bars burst into the premises of Venezuela
’s National Assembly on Wednesday, leaving at least seven people seriously injured.
Breaking through the entrance gates, the mob also laid siege to the opposition lawmakers inside the Assembly and interrupted a special session hosting top government and military officials, who had gathered to celebrate the country’s Independence Day.
People said to be the supporters of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro storm the National Assembly building in Caracas, July 5, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Police fired tear gas at the attackers on the assembly premises to disperse them and managed to end the siege after nine hours, allowing the lawmakers out.
Opposition lawmakers blamed the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
“We will not be intimidated by these acts of violence. No one here will surrender to this dictatorship,” said senior opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara.
Government supporters attack a person outside Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly in Caracas, July 5, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)
‘350 people kidnapped’
National Assembly President Julio Borges alleged that several hundred people had been kidnapped during the raid.
“The count stands at more than 350 people kidnapped today. Amongst the 350 people, there are 108 people from the media, journalists, technical personnel, who are witnesses to what happened today. In addition to lawmakers and journalists, [there are] special guests, university rectors, academics, and foreign guests,” Borges said.
Venezuela has been the scene of intensified unrest for three months.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivers a speech during a military parade to celebrate the 206th anniversary of independence, in Caracas, July 5, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Maduro condemns attack
Speaking at a military parade in Caracas, Maduro condemned the Wednesday attack on the parliament.
“I absolutely condemn these deeds. I will never be complicit in any act of violence… I have ordered an investigation, and may justice be done,” he said.
Meanwhile, a rogue police pilot who engaged in limited armed attacks on government buildings in Caracas last week released a new video of himself earlier in the day, expressing readiness to take to the streets again.
“Once again, we are in Caracas, ready and willing to continue our struggle for the liberation of our country,” said Oscar Perez, the police pilot.
Sitting before a Venezuelan flag and an assault rifle by his side, the 36-year-old pilot (pictured below) gave no other details but pledged to join the youth protesting against Maduro on the streets of the capital.
Over the past months, clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters in Venezuela have left over 90 people dead and 1,300 wounded.
The unrest was aggravated in early April after Venezuela’s Supreme Court decided to annul the powers of the opposition-controlled parliament. The move was regarded as a violation of the country’s constitution. The decision was later revoked, but the protests have only continued.
Venezuela’s opposition says it will hold an unofficial referendum later this month on a Maduro plan to rewrite the constitution. The July 16 referendum would take place two weeks ahead of elections for the government-planned Constituent Assembly.
Opposition activists and riot police clash during an anti-government protest in Caracas, July 4, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
The opposition, which blames Maduro for the oil-rich county’s severe hyperinflation and widespread shortages of basic supplies, has been calling for an early presidential election, which it hopes would oust the president.
The Caracas government says the protests are incited by the Unites Stated to remove Maduro from power and has accused the opposition of hiring armed gangs. The opposition, too, has claimed the government has recruited criminal gangs to intimidate protesters.