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US denies role as Venezuela's Maduro blames 'assassination' attempt on Colombia

5th August 2018 - 16:48 GMT | by ​Agence France-Presse in Caracas

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The United States has denied involvement as Nicolas Maduro blamed the opposition and Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos for an alleged 'assassination' attempt on the Venezuela president.

Venezuela's far-left government said seven soldiers were wounded by the alleged attack using explosive-laden drones during a military parade in Caracas on 4 August.

Maduro pointed the finger at outgoing Colombian President Santos and 'the ultra-right wing', a term he uses to describe domestic opposition, as a mysterious rebel group claimed responsibility.

US national security advisor John Bolton on 5 August insisted there was 'no US government involvement' and even suggested that the incident could have been 'a pretext set up by the regime itself.'

Venezuela has already reacted with a series of arrests as Attorney General Tarek William Saab, who was also present at the parade, warning: 'There will be a ruthless punishment.'

Saab said the names of those arrested would be revealed on 6 August.

State television images showed Maduro looking up disconcertedly in the middle of a speech, having heard a bang, before members of the country's National Guard lined up in the parade suddenly scattered.

Communication Minister Jorge Rodriguez said there was 'an explosive charge... detonated close to the presidential podium' and in several other spots along the parade held in central Caracas. Saab told CNN he saw a drone filming the event explode. 

No drones could be seen in the television broadcast, which showed bodyguards jumping in front of Maduro to protect him with flexible ballistic shields. The broadcast was quickly cut.

Meanwhile, a policeman who requested anonymity told AFP that drones may have been released from a nearby apartment that suffered a fire after one exploded. However, other accounts attributed the fire to the accidental explosion of a gas cylinder.

Late on 4 August a civilian and military rebel group calling itself the 'National Movement of Soldiers in T-shirts' claimed responsibility in a statement passed to US-based opposition journalist Patricia Poleo.

'We cannot tolerate that the population is suffering from hunger, that the sick do not have medicine, that the currency has no value, or that the education system neither educates nor teaches, only indoctrinating communism,' said the statement, accusing the regime of having 'made public office an obscene way to get rich.'

Maduro, though, blamed neighboring Colombia: 'I have no doubt that the name Juan Manuel Santos is behind this attack.'

Santos, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who negotiated a historic peace accord with Marxist guerrillas FARC, is due to hand over power to the hardline right-wing Ivan Duque, a vocal critic of Venezuela's regime, on 7 August.

The Colombian foreign ministry denied involvement, saying the allegations were 'absurd' and 'lacked any foundation.'

Maduro said investigations pointed to financial backers who 'live in the United States, in the state of Florida. I hope that President Donald Trump is ready to fight these terrorist groups.'

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