Former National Guard captain calls for civic and military action to re-establish constitutional order in Venezuela
Venezuelan authorities quelled an attack on a military base near the city of Valencia by soldiers and armed civilians on Sunday, killing two of them in a dramatic escalation of unrest in the protest-convulsed South American nation.
The pre-dawn raid coincided with a video circulated on social media showing more than a dozen men in military uniform announcing an uprising to restore constitutional order following the creation of a pro-government legislative superbody on Friday, condemned internationally as a power grab by President Nicolas Maduro.
The assault highlighted the growing volatility of the OPEC member state after four months of sustained anti-government protests in which some 120 people have been killed. The opposition has denounced Maduro for dragging Venezuela toward dictatorship and has appealed to the military for help.
In his weekly televised show, the unpopular socialist leader condemned the attackers as "mercenaries". He said around 20 armed men had entered the Fort of Paramacay near Valencia, about two hours west of capital Caracas, before dawn, surprising guards and making straight for the weapons cache.
Two of the attackers were killed in a firefight with soldiers, Maduro said. Socialist party officials said eight others were arrested, including at least three from the military, while the remainder made off with weapons.
In Valencia, hundreds took to the streets to support what at first appeared to be a small military uprising, said resident Carolina Herrera, who like other witnesses reported shots through the night. But protesters were dispelled with tear gas.
Sunday's attack was apparently led by Juan Carlos Caguaripano, a former National Guard captain. Authorities published photos purporting to show seven arrested men, some of them with bruises on their faces.
In the video circulating Sunday, a man who identified himself as Caguaripano and flanked by men in military uniforms, called for the immediate formation of a transition government.
"This is not a coup d'etat," added Caguaripano, "this is a civic and military action to re-establish constitutional order. But more than that, it is to save the country from total destruction."