CARACAS: Venezuelan pro-government militants wielding clubs and pipes stormed into the opposition-held National Assembly Wednesday (Thursday in Manila), attacking lawmakers and leaving seven hurt including three with blood streaming from their heads.
The special Independence Day legislative session turned into a violent, nine-hour siege when supporters of leftist President Nicolas Maduro then blocked the building and prevented 350 lawmakers, staff and others from leaving.
Police initially did not intervene, but eventually joined soldiers to keep the mob at bay and allow the lawmakers to leave.
The attack is just the latest episode of political violence in three months of chaos in the oil-rich but poverty-stricken country that have seen 91 people killed in clashes with police.
Protesters blame Maduro for a desperate economic crisis that has caused shortages of food and medicine. Maduro insists the chaos is a US-backed opposition conspiracy.
The unpopular Maduro, who condemned the violence, faces opposition demands for elections to remove him from office.
“I absolutely condemn these deeds. I will never be complicit in any act of violence,” Maduro said in a speech at a military parade in Caracas.
“I have ordered an investigation, and may justice be done.”
‘Losing our country’
Military police guarding the National Assembly stood by as about 100 intruders brandishing clubs and pipes, and one of them a gun, broke through the front gate in the late morning and into the interior gardens and then the building itself.
The mob streamed into the corridors of the congressional building, striking lawmakers, detonating stun grenades, and ordering journalists to leave the premises.
Lawmakers barricaded themselves inside rooms with furniture and rugs. When it was all over, there were blood stains on walls.
The opposition said seven lawmakers were injured and five needed to be hospitalized. Two National Assembly employees were also hurt.
“This does not hurt as much as seeing every day how we are losing our country,” lawmaker Armando Armas told reporters as he entered an ambulance with his head wrapped in bloodied bandages.
During the later siege, government backers gathered at the gates screamed “killers” and “terrorists” at the opposition lawmakers inside. At one point, lawmaker Williams Davila of the foreign affairs commission told reporters, “we have been kidnapped.”