A group of dissident Venezuelan soldiers claimed to have taken over an army base in the city of Valencia on Sunday, calling on the people to support them in a “legitimate rebellion” against Nicolas Maduro’s “murderous tyranny”.
The attempt appeared to have been quickly put down by the government, which declared it had thwarted an attack on the base by “terrorists”, and that the army was now back in control.
Two of the attackers were killed and eight were captured, Mr Maduro said on state television, claiming the group of “mercenaries” – whose total number he put at around 20 – had ties to Colombia and the United States.
“We know where they are headed and all of our military and police force is deployed,” Mr Maduro said. He said he would ask for “the maximum penalty for those who participated in this terrorist attack.”
In a video circulating on social media, a group of men in military uniform purporting to represent the 41st Armoured Brigade in Valencia announced the start of “Operation David”, which they said was a “legitimate rebellion” against a government that was was destroying the country.
Other videos appeared to show people cheering and coming out on to the streets as armoured vehicles circulated around the military base. There were also reports of heavy confrontations, with shots ringing out and clouds of teargas visible in some footage.
The apparent uprising comes two days after the installation of Mr Maduro’s controversial constituent assembly, which is empowered to rewrite the constitution and dismiss institutions deemed hostile to the government. On Saturday it fired the country’s rebel attorney general, Luisa Ortega Diaz, and appointed a senior Chavista in her place, in a move condemned internationally as dictatorial.
Ms Ortega insisted on Sunday that she remained the attorney general, and could not be dismissed by the “illegitimate” assembly, which she said been elected through “manipulated” results and voter intimidation.
In the video message, the commander of the group, who identified himself as Captain Juan Caguaripano, called for support from other units, the police and all “brave men and women, lovers of freedom of peace” in their fight to defend the country’s democracy.
“We clarify, this is not a coup d’etat. This is a military and civilian action to reestablish the constitutional order…