CARACAS: Venezuelan intelligence agents Wednesday detained a senior leader of the opposition-dominated National Assembly, the first arrest of a lawmaker since the failed uprising against President Nicolas Maduro last week.
Edgar Zambrano said agents had towed him and his car to prison after he refused to get out of the vehicle.
Zambrano is deputy to National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido, who is recognised as the country’s leader by more than 50 states, and who organised the April 30 revolt.
“We warn the people of Venezuela and the international community: the regime has kidnapped the first vice-president” of the National Assembly, said Guaido, who heads the body and has been in a power struggle with Maduro since declaring himself acting president in January.
“They are trying to destroy the power representing all Venezuelans, but they will not achieve it,” Guaido said.
Shortly before his arrest, Zambrano said on Twitter that agents of the SEBIN intelligence agency had encircled his vehicle outside the headquarters of the Democratic Action party.
“As we refused to get out of our vehicle, they used a tow truck to forcibly take us directly to the Helicoide,” a notorious political prison and the headquarters of the secret service, he tweeted.
The United States, European Union and several Latin American states criticised Zambrano’s arrest.
On the Twitter account of its now-closed embassy in Caracas, Washington called the detention “illegal and inexcusable.”
It warned of “consequences” if he is not immediately released.
Early Thursday US President Donald Trump – whose country was among the first to back Guaido – said he was “discussing the terrible abuses by Maduro.”
Trump did not mention Zambrano but said the US will stand with the people of Venezuela “for however long it takes!”
Along with the US, Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Peru protested his arrest while the EU said it was “another flagrant violation of the country’s constitution.”
Separately, Venezuela’s Supreme Court indicted three more lawmakers for backing Guaido’s uprising, which set off two days of clashes between security forces and protesters.
Attorney General Tarek William Saab says the clashes left six people dead.
The three lawmakers – named as Freddy Superlano, Sergio Vergara and Juan Andres Mejia – are accused of high treason and conspiracy.
This brings to 10 the number of opposition lawmakers indicted for supporting Guaido, following a court announcement on Tuesday that seven others will be prosecuted.
Soon after the announcement, the Constituent Assembly – which effectively acts as a regime rubber stamp – stripped the seven of their parliamentary immunity.
Guaido was himself stripped of immunity on April 2.
The Constituent Assembly, which Maduro created to sideline the National Assembly, has said it would suspend the immunity of any lawmakers who backed the uprising.
Guaido said in a speech after the first indictments on Tuesday that the government’s “only response… is to persecute, because they no longer govern, because they no longer have command.”
Venezuela has suffered five years of recession that has seen more than 2.7 million people flee poverty, hyperinflation, food shortages and insecurity since 2015, according to United Nations figures.
On Wednesday Maduro warned of a possible “military escalation” with neighbouring Colombia – which recognises Guaido as interim president – after Bogota accused Caracas of sheltering leftist guerrillas on its territory.