Venezuela’s Maduro target of drone ‘attack,’ but unharmed

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores attend a military event in Caracas, Venezuela. (Reuters pic)

CARACAS: Drones loaded with explosives detonated close to a military event where Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was giving a speech on Saturday, but he and top government officials alongside him escaped unharmed from what Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez called an “attack” targeting the leftist leader.

Seven National Guard soldiers were injured, Rodriguez added.

A Venezuelan who was visiting family close to the event in Caracas told Reuters she heard two explosions.

Photographs on social media appeared to show bodyguards shielding Maduro with black bulletproof panels. A photograph also showed an injured military official clutching his bloody head and being held up by colleagues.

Maduro, a former bus driver who replaced former President Hugo Chavez after his death in 2013, won a new six-year term in May but his main rivals disavowed the election and alleged massive irregularities.

Venezuelan government officials condemned what they said were “terrorist” attacks on Saturday. A broadcast by Maduro was cut short as he delivered the speech at an outdoors military event in Caracas and soldiers were seen running before the televised transmission was cut off.

While Maduro was speaking about Venezuela’s economy, the audio suddenly went and he and others on the podium looked up, startled. The camera then panned to scores of soldiers who started running, before the transmission was cut.

Venezuela is suffering under the fifth year of a severe economic crisis that has sparked malnutrition, hyperinflation and mass emigration.

Opec member Venezuela’s once-thriving socialist economy has collapsed since the 2014 fall of oil prices.

The self-described “son” of Chavez, Maduro says he is battling an “imperialist” plot to destroy socialism and take over Venezuela’s oil. Opponents accuse him of authoritarianism, saying he has destroyed a once-wealthy economy and ruthlessly crushed dissent.

Last year, rogue police officer Oscar Perez hijacked a helicopter and fired at government buildings in what he said was an action against a dictator. Perez was hunted down and killed by Venezuelan forces.