Venezuela hunts rogue helicopter attackers, Maduro foes suspicious

By Andrew Cawthorne and Victoria Ramirez

CARACAS (Reuters) – The Venezuelan government hunted on Wednesday for rogue policemen who attacked key installations by helicopter, but critics of President Nicolas Maduro suspected the raid may have been staged to justify repression.

In extraordinary scenes over Caracas around sunset on Tuesday, the stolen helicopter fired shots at the Interior Ministry and dropped grenades on the Supreme Court, both viewed by Venezuela’s opposition as bastions of support for a dictator.

Nobody was injured.

Officials said special forces were seeking Oscar Perez, 36, a police pilot named as the mastermind of the raid by the helicopter that carried a banner saying “Freedom!”

In 2015, Perez co-produced and starred in “Death Suspended,” an action film in which he played the lead role as a government agent rescuing a kidnapped businessman.

There was no sign on Wednesday of Perez, whom officials condemned as a “psychopath”, but the helicopter was found on Venezuela’s northern Caribbean coastline.

“We ask for maximum support to find this fanatic, extremist terrorist,” vice president Tareck El Aissami said.

The attack exacerbated an already full-blown political crisis in Venezuela after three months of opposition protests demanding general elections and fixes for the sinking economy.

At least 76 people have died in the unrest since April, the latest a 25-year-old man shot in the head near a protest in the Petare slum of Caracas, authorities said on Wednesday.

Hundreds more people have been injured and arrested in what Maduro terms an ongoing coup attempt with U.S. encouragement.

The attack fed a conspiracy theory by opposition supporters that it may have been a government setup and overshadowed other drama on Tuesday, including the besieging of opposition legislators by gangs in the National Assembly.

The helicopter raid also coincided with a judicial measure weakening the powers of dissident chief state prosecutor Luisa Ortega, who has emerged as a major…

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