• Thursday, October 18, 2018
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New York Times| Top News

Venezuela seeks arrest of opposition leader in drone episode

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a rally in Caracas on May 1. A drone attack that failed to kill President Maduro on August 4 unfolded on live TV and in front of many eyewitnesses in Caracas, who were watching the ceremony.

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MEDELLÍN, Colombia >> Venezuelan authorities ordered the arrest of a former National Assembly leader Wednesday in connection with what they said was a weekend assassination attempt against President Nicolás Maduro, as the government appeared to train its sights on opposition figures in the aftermath.

The order came a day after another opposition lawmaker was detained and as the government stripped both men of the immunity granted to lawmakers.

Wednesday, the Supreme Court said it had evidence that Julio Borges, a top opposition leader who had served as head of the country’s National Assembly, had committed incitement, treason and attempted homicide in a plot against Maduro. The court ordered the arrest of Borges, who is currently in Colombia.

Late Tuesday night, Juan Requesens, a deputy in the assembly, was arrested by intelligence agents, opposition politicians said. A video that circulated on social media appeared to show Requesens emerging from an elevator, then being chased and arrested by agents whose faces were covered.

Borges did not respond to a text message seeking comment. Requesens’ political party, Primero Justicia, said he had been “kidnapped” by the government.

The moves were the first against opposition lawmakers since Saturday’s attack, which the government said was an opposition plot to kill Maduro. Drones carrying explosives detonated near the president while he was giving a speech during a military parade. Maduro was unharmed.

During the episode, which was broadcast live, hundreds of troops fled in panic.

Last year, the Venezuelan opposition won the prestigious Sakharov Prize, given by the European Parliament to those who work for human rights and freedom of thought. Borges accepted the award on the opposition’s behalf and warned that democracy was under threat in Venezuela.

On Wednesday, opposition lawmakers denounced the government’s actions.

“It’s an excess; it’s an abuse,” Oneida Guaipe, a lawmaker in the National Assembly, said of the government’s moves. “We are going to take this on.”

But challenging the government may prove impossible for the assembly, which is now largely dormant. Last year, Maduro replaced the National Assembly with a new body, the Constituent Assembly, that his party controls.

Pedro Carreño, a top official in Maduro’s governing party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, invoked Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara: “To the enemies of the fatherland and the revolution, I’ll conclude, as Che once said, that we are a nightmare for those who want to take away our dreams,” he said.

Shortly after the attack, the government said it had arrested six people, including one person who it said had attacked an army barracks last year. Two of the men named by the government, though, had been identified by Maduro’s opponents last year as being government spies.

With the moves against the opposition lawmakers, Maduro’s government appeared to be widening its net to include political opponents both in and outside Venezuela.

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