Venezuela's socialist government said on Wednesday it has derailed an attempted coup, claiming the United States, Colombia and Chile colluded in a plot by officers to assassinate President Nicolas Maduro and install a general in his place, a minister said.
Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the plan involved both active and retired army officers and was to have been executed between Sunday and Monday this past weekend.
He accused Colombia's right-wing President Ivan Duque of "planning coups, assassinations of the president" as well as implicating Chile's conservative President Sebastian Pinera and US National Security Advisor John Bolton in the plot.
Rodriguez accused Maduro's former intelligence chief Cristopher Figuera – who has defected to the United States – of seeking "hundreds of thousands of dollars" for supporting a failed military uprising against the president in April.
Figuera "turned out to be a mercenary" the minister said in Caracas.
"We have revealed, dismantled and captured a fascist band of terrorists that planned a coup against Venezuelan society and Venezuelan democracy," said Maduro in an evening broadcast.
"They are captured, behind bars, with clear evidence after following this group of criminals and fascists."
Juan Carlos Lamas has more.
At least six of the alleged plotters had been detained, Rodriguez said in a televised speech in Caracas, presenting testimony from one of them, named as Lieutenant Carlos Saavedra.
Four of the officers were arrested last Friday, a move denounced by opposition leader Juan Guaido in a statement on Tuesday, though no details of the circumstances, or the reasons for their arrests, emerged.
Saavedra was identified as the nephew of retired General Ramon Saavedra, who was arrested Wednesday by intelligence agents in Venezuela's western Barinas state.
According to Rodriguez, surveillance of the plotters and Saavedra's recorded "confession" revealed that the plan envisaged the takeover of three military bases, including La Carlota air base in Caracas.
The plotters hoped to spring Raul Baduel -- a former defence minister under late president Hugo Chavez -- from jail to proclaim him president, Rodriguez said.
Baduel was demoted last year by Maduro as part of a purge of senior military officers, which also included another general, Antonio Rivero, who the government said lives in the Dominican Republic and was one of the leaders of the coup bid.
"Is it a military coup d'etat against Guaido or against President Nicolas Maduro?" Rodriguez joked.
Opposition leader dismisses government 'coup' claim
Guaido on Wednesday dismissed government claims of an attempted coup, and said he would continue calls on the armed forces to abandon Maduro.
"It is the same story for the umpteenth time, and the press has lost count of how many times the same accusations have been repeated," Guaido told reporters following government claims that it had derailed an attempted coup and a plan to assassinate his rival.
Venezuelan authorities said earlier this month that 17 people had been charged with attempting a coup on April 30, during opposition leader Guaido's failed attempt to inspire an uprising, when he called on the armed forces to rise up against Maduro.
The effort failed to shift the military's allegiance and Guaido was backed by only around 30 military personnel. The revolt petered out after two days of deadly clashes between protesters and security forces.
Guaido is recognised as interim president by more than 50 countries, including the United States, which has imposed a series of crippling sanctions on Maduro's government.
Russia, Maduro's staunchest foreign backer along with Cuba and China, announced earlier Wednesday it was withdrawing military "technicians" which it deployed in Venezuela in a show of support three months ago.