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Nicolas Maduro, the Leftist leader of Venezuela, blamed far Right opponents, neighbouring Colombia and financiers based in Florida for what he said was an assassination attempt with a drone in Caracas on Saturday night.
He appeared on TV hours after cutting short a speech to the country’s military amid scenes of panic to point the finger at a familiar list of enemies.
Officials said two drones loaded with explosives went off during the president’s speech. However, firefighters disputed that version of events, saying a gas tank had exploded in an apartment.
In an address to the nation, Mr Maduro said: “That drone was coming for me but there was a shield of love. I am sure I will live for many more years.”
He said initial investigations pointed to the far Right and to Colombia.
Security agents surround Nicolas Maduro after explosion heard
Security agents surround Nicolas Maduro after explosion heard Credit: Xinhua via AP
“I have no doubt that the name Juan Manuel Santos is behind this attack,” he added, referring to the president of Colombia, who has suggested that Mr Maduro would soon be forced from power.
Mr Maduro, who faces criticism from home and abroad for his handling of a battered economy, said he hoped Donald Trump would help with the investigation, as he claimed that financiers and planners of the attack were located in Florida.
Security forces check a building after an explosion was heard during a ceremony attended by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro
Security forces check a building after an explosion was heard during a ceremony attended by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro Credit: AFP
A mysterious rebel group made up of Venezuelan civilians and military claimed responsibility for the attack.
“It is contrary to military honour to keep in government those who not only have forgotten the Constitution, but who have also made public office an obscene way to get rich,” the group – known as Soldiers in T-shirts – said in a message posted on social media.
Earlier, state television showed Mr Maduro addressing a ceremony marking the 81st anniversary of the National Guard.
“To the conscious Venezuela, we are going to bet for the good of our country, the hour of the economic recovery has come and we need…,” Mr Maduro was heard saying before he halted, looking startled, and the cameras cut away.
Mr Maduro was standing next to his wife Cilia Flores and several high-ranking military officials for the event broadcast on radio and television.
Nicolas Maduro during the event
Nicolas Maduro during the event Credit: Reuters
A video shows Ms Flores wince, and both she and Mr Maduro look up after an unidentified sound.
The soldiers lined up in ranks then began running.
The transmission was cut without explanation.
Residents of Caracas took to Twitter to report hearing an explosion.
The country’s information minister said the president was the target of drones loaded with explosives.
“At exactly 5:41 pm in the afternoon several explosions were heard,” said Jorge Rodriguez. “The investigation clearly reveals they came from drone-like devices that carried explosives.”
He added that seven soldiers were wounded.
However, firefighters at the scene disputed the government’s account. Three officers told the Associated Press that the actual cause was a gas tank exploding inside an apartment.
National Guard personnel run for cover
National Guard personnel run for cover Credit: Reuters
Smoke could be seen coming out of a building window at the site of the incident.
The Venezuelan TV channel NTN 24 posted video of what appeared to be the moment the drones exploded.
No group has yet claimed responsibility.
It comes months after Mr Maduro won re-election amid controversial circumstances. The opposition boycotted the ballot and many voters stayed at home.
The president faces condemnation at home and abroad for his stewardship of Venezuela’s economic collapse that has left most of the country living in poverty.
Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have fled the country, where food and medicine are in very short supply, and where inflation this year could reach as high as one million percent according to the International Monetary Fund.