Rebel cops attack Venezuelan court from copter

Venezuelan President speaks out after rogue policemen throw grenades from a helicopter in Caracas.
Investigative police pilot Oscar Perez reading a statement saying an operation was under way to restore democracy, in an Instagram video.
Investigative police pilot Oscar Perez reading a statement saying an operation was under way to restore democracy, in an Instagram video.PHOTO: REUTERS
An employee cleaning the aisles of a looted pharmacy in Maracay, Venezuela on Tuesday. The country has been gripped by months of protests against President Nicolas Maduro.
An employee cleaning the aisles of a looted pharmacy in Maracay, Venezuela on Tuesday. The country has been gripped by months of protests against President Nicolas Maduro.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WATCH THE VIDEO Supreme Court attacked from helicopter. str.sg/4Eyi

CARACAS • A Venezuelan police helicopter strafed the Supreme Court and a government ministry, escalating the nation's political crisis in what President Nicolas Maduro called an attack by "terrorists" seeking a coup.

The aircraft fired 15 shots at the Interior Ministry on Tuesday, where scores of people were at a social event, and dropped four grenades on the Supreme Court, where judges were meeting, officials said.

However, there were no reports of injuries. "Sooner rather than later, we are going to capture the helicopter and those behind this armed terrorist attack against the institutions of the country," Mr Maduro said. "They could have caused dozens of deaths."

The socialist leader, speaking on state television, said he activated an air defence plan and deployed all military special forces to capture the helicopter crew.

He blamed ally-turned-critic Miguel Rodriguez Torres, previously his interior minister, for the attack, saying one of the helicopter pilots had worked under him.

The 54-year-old Mr Maduro has faced three months of protests from opposition leaders who decry him as a dictator who has wrecked a once-prosperous economy.

There has been growing dissent too from within the government and security forces.

At least 75 people have died, and hundreds more injured and arrested, in the anti-government unrest since April.

Demonstrators are demanding general elections, measures to alleviate a brutal economic crisis, freedom for hundreds of jailed opposition activists, and independence for the opposition-controlled National Assembly legislature.

Mr Maduro said they are seeking a coup against him with the encouragement of a US government eager to gain control of Venezuela's oil reserves, the largest in the world.

Venezuela's government said in a communique the helicopter was stolen by investigative police pilot Oscar Perez, who declared himself in rebellion against Mr Maduro.

Images shared on social and local media appear to show Mr Perez waving a banner from the helicopter reading "Liberty", and the number "350" in large letters. The number refers to the Constitutional article allowing people the right to oppose an undemocratic government.

A video posted on Mr Perez's Instagram account around the same time showed him standing in front of several hooded armed men, saying an operation was under way to restore democracy. He said in the video he represented a coalition of military, police and civilian officials opposed to the "criminal" government, and urged Mr Maduro's resignation and called for general elections.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERGWATCH

THE VIDEO

Supreme Court attacked from helicopter. str.sg/4Eyi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2017, with the headline 'Rebel cops attack Venezuelan court from copter'. Print Edition | Subscribe