Venezuela's Maduro to risk first public appearance since drone 'attack' - Kogonuso


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Aug 6, 2018

Venezuela's Maduro to risk first public appearance since drone 'attack'

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was expected to make his first public appearance Monday since being targeted over the weekend by drones that he said were sent to "assassinate" him during a military parade.

Tense ties between Venezuela and neighboring US ally Colombia are plumbing a new low after Maduro claimed his Colombian counterpart, Juan Manuel Santos, was behind Saturday's attack.

Santos, who hands over power to elected successor Ivan Duque on Tuesday, has categorically rejected the accusation.

A live broadcast of the incident on Venezuelan state television showed Maduro interrupted in mid-speech by an explosion and looking up in confusion.

Dozens of soldiers on parade are then seen breaking ranks and running away in panic.

Maduro and his government said the president had been targeted by two flying drones carrying explosives.

They blamed the attack on Colombia, working with the "ultra far-right" Venezuelan opposition, and financed by unnamed figures in the US state of Florida.

No evidence was given to support the allegations. Thousands of exiled Venezuelans live in Colombia and in Florida.

- Suspects 'identified' -

Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab told a news conference on Monday that several suspects were in custody and authorities "will pursue under the law all those who conspire against public peace."

He said the drone attack was "an attempted massacre." Seven soldiers were wounded.

"All the material perpetrators of the act and their accomplices have been identified," Saab said.

He added that two of the suspects were "caught in the act" guiding one of the drones from a car close to the parade.

He did not identify any of the suspects but said that "initial international connections have been established."

Interior Minister Nicolas Reverol said on Sunday that six suspects had been arrested.

He said two drones had been used, each carrying a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of C4 explosive. One went out of control and flew into a building, and the other was jammed and exploded before reaching the president's podium, Reverol said.

Maduro's supporters marched through Caracas on Monday. The 55-year-old Socialist leader was expected to appear in public to address them.

Several questions hover over Saturday's incident, with some inconsistent information coming from various sources.

No drones could be seen in Saturday's broadcast, which was cut moments after the soldiers were seen scattering away from dias where Maduro was standing flanked by military chiefs and his wife.

Some accounts on the ground said a fire at a nearby building was caused by the accidental explosion of a gas cylinder.

An unauthenticated statement from a rebel group calling itself the "National Movement of Soldiers in T-Shirts" claimed responsibility in a statement passed to an opposition journalist based in the US.

Maduro and his allies, however, insist it was a drone assassination bid. Cuba, Bolivia, Syria, Iran and Russia condemned the incident.

- Persecution feared -

Maduro's critics said they feared the Venezuelan government would now step up repression of the opposition and dissidents.

Maduro, a 55-year-old former bus driver who took over the reins from his mentor Hugo Chavez on the latter's death to cancer in 2013, has been ruling in increasingly autocratic fashion with the backing of Venezuela's military.

He controls almost all institutions in his country, and has used the supreme court, electoral authorities and a new super-legislative body, the Constitutional Assembly, to sideline the opposition-run parliament, the National Assembly.

Although he won a new six-year term in controversial snap elections boycotted by the opposition, Maduro remains widely reviled for presiding over a collapsing economy.

Inflation this year is projected to reach as high as one million percent, according to the International Monetary Fund. Oil exports -- a vital money-earner for a country sitting atop the world's largest crude reserves -- have declined sharply.

Venezuela's currency, the bolivar, is practically worthless and food and medicine are extremely scarce, prompting hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans to flee abroad.

The country is largely isolated internationally and is subject to US sanctions that greatly degraded Caracas' capacity to raise credit.

Maduro regularly accuses the "imperialist" United States of plotting coups against him and waging "economic war" on Venezuela.

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