Venezuela’s opposition lawmakers beaten and besieged by pro-government mob
Pipe-wielding government supporters burst into Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress on Wednesday, witnesses said, attacking and besieging lawmakers in the latest flare-up of violence during a political crisis.
After the morning attack, a crowd of roughly 100 people, many dressed in red and shouting “Long Live The Revolution!”, trapped politicians, reporters and guests inside for hours, witnesses said. Some of those who had been caught inside were able to start leaving at dusk.
Some in the crowd outside the legislature brandished pistols, threatened to cut water and power supplies, and played an audio of former socialist president Hugo Chavez saying “Tremble, oligarchy!”
The crowd had gathered just after dawn outside the National Assembly building in downtown Caracas, chanting in favour of President Nicolas Maduro.
In the late morning, several dozen people suddenly ran past the gates with pipes, sticks and stones and went on the attack.
They injured at least five opposition lawmakers, some of whom stumbled bloodied and dazed around the assembly’s corridors, witnesses said. Some journalists also were robbed.
“There are bullets, there is blood, there are cars destroyed, including my personal one,” congress head Julio Borges told reporters.
The worst-hurt lawmaker, Americo De Grazia, was hit on the head, fell unconscious, and was eventually taken by stretcher to an ambulance. His family later said he was out of critical condition and being stitched up.
Throughout the day, explosions were occasionally heard around the congress building as fireworks were tossed into the compound. Some 50 National Guard soldiers stood inside the gates to prevent people entering again.
“We’re kidnapped,” said opposition lawmaker William Davila from inside congress where politicians transmitted events throughout the day live from their telephones.
Downtown Caracas is a traditional stronghold neighbourhood for the government and there has been a string of melees there since the opposition thrashed the ruling Socialist Party in December 2015 parliamentary elections.
In a speech during a military parade for Independence Day, Maduro condemned the “strange” violence in the assembly and asked for an investigation. But he also challenged the opposition to speak out about violence from within its ranks.
During three months of anti-government unrest in which at least 90 people have died, young demonstrators have frequently attacked security forces with stones, home-made mortars and Molotov cocktails, and burned property. They killed one man by dousing him in gasoline and setting him on fire.
“I want peace for Venezuela,” Maduro said. “I don’t accept violence from anyone.”
Numerous foreign nations repudiated Wednesday’s events.
“I condemn the grotesque attack on the Venezuelan assembly,” tweeted UK ambassador John Saville.
Venezuela’s opposition is demanding general elections to end socialist rule and solutions to the Opec nation’s brutal economic crisis. The government says its foes are seeking a violent coup with US support.