Government supporters attack Venezuela's opposition lawmakers

Pro-government groups storm the opposition-controlled National Assembly in Caracas. Several people, including lawmakers, injured in clashes during which small explosions took place.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Opposition lawmaker Americo De Grazia (C) is being assisted after he was injured when a group of government supporters stormed into a session of Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela. July 5, 2017.

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!"

TRT World's Oliver Whitfield-Miocic reports. 

The crowd had gathered just after dawn outside the National Assembly building in downtown Caracas, chanting in favor 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 were also robbed.

"There are bullets, there is blood, there are cars destroyed, including my personal one," congress head Julio Borges told reporters from inside.

TRT World spoke to Juan Carlos Lamas who has been following developments in Caracas.

Various small explosions were heard, possibly from fireworks thrown into the legislative compound, witnesses said. 

The worst-hurt lawmaker, Federico 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.

Intruders brandishing sticks and dressed in red broke through the front gate and set off fireworks in the interior gardens of the building, journalists at the scene said.

The attackers ordered journalists to stop filming and taking photographs and leave the premises. 

Several journalists were robbed in the ensuing chaos.

People react as a firecracker explodes outside the National Assembly, in Caracas, Venezuela July 5, 2017. (Reuters)

On the government's watch

Downtown Caracas is a traditional stronghold neighborhood 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, homemade mortars and Molotov cocktails, and burned property. They killed one man by dousing him in gasoline and setting him on fire.

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.

Government supporters hold a national flag while clashing with people outside the National Assembly, in Caracas, Venezuela July 5, 2017. (Reuters)

Tensions are high in Venezuela after three months of anti-government protests that have seen 91 people killed in clashes with police.

Anti-government protesters blame Maduro for a deepening economic crisis. But Maduro says the chaos is the result of a US-backed capitalist conspiracy by the opposition.

AFP, Reuters