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Police in Helicopter Attack Venezuela’s Top Court, Dropping Grenades


A rogue faction of the Venezuelan police attacked the country’s Supreme Court in Caracas on Tuesday, dropping grenades from a helicopter, Venezuelan government officials said. It was a rare uprising by government personnel in a country that has been on edge from mass protests and economic crises.

A video shot from a window and posted on Twitter shows a helicopter swooping in a circle around a building as explosions are heard.

Another video posted on social media on Tuesday showed a uniformed man identified as Oscar Pérez, flanked by masked, heavily armed men dressed in uniforms, taking responsibility for the operation. The speaker said he represented a coalition of military, police and civilian personnel who opposed what he called “this transitional, criminal government.”

“We are nationalists, patriots and institutionalists,” the man said. “This fight is not against other state security forces. It is against the impunity imposed by this government. It is against tyranny. It is against the death of young people fighting for their legitimate rights.”

It was not clear where the attackers were on Tuesday night or how much support, if any, they had. It could not be determined whether the attack resulted in casualties.

Elsewhere in Caracas, opposition members of Parliament said they were being besieged by armed government supporters.

Ernesto Villegas, Venezuela’s minister of communication and information, said on national television that President Nicolás Maduro had been briefed on “an act of violence” launched from a helicopter that belongs to a law enforcement agency.

Mr. Villegas characterized the event as an “uprising against the republic, the Constitution.”

Mr. Maduro condemned the attack in a televised address, calling it part of a “coup plot.”

He said the assailants launched grenades, including one that did not explode, while a “social event” was taking place in the court complex. He said the gunmen shot from the helicopter into offices and then flew over the building. “They could have left several dozen deaths,” he said. The president said he had “activated the entire national armed forces to defend people’s right to serenity.”

Mr. Maduro said, “Sooner or later we will capture the helicopter and those who have committed this armed attack.” His remark suggested the assailants were at large and in control of the aircraft.

Venezuela has been rattled for weeks by protests against the government, some of which have turned violent. It has resorted to increasingly heavy-handed tactics, including torture, to beat back demonstrations, according to accounts by detained demonstrators and human rights activists.

The turmoil has created rifts in the governing party, most notably the defection of the attorney general, Luisa Ortega, who broke ranks with Mr. Maduro in March. She accused him of trampling on constitutional norms after the Supreme Court, which is packed with government loyalists, issued a ruling significantly weakening the powers of the opposition-dominated Parliament.

For more than two years, Venezuelans have been reeling from the country’s worst economic crisis in generations. The price of oil, which long bolstered the economy and paid for social programs, has plummeted. Inflation is at record levels, and supermarket shelves are empty.

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