Two dead and eight arrested as Venezuelan rebellion quashed

A controversial vote last week handed the country's president virtually unlimited powers.

Two dead and eight arrested as Venezuelan rebellion quashed

An anti-government demonstrator wearing a Russian military hat protests the government of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela. 06-08-2017. Image: AP Photo/Wil Riera

The President of Venezuela has announced that a small rebellion in the country has been quashed.

Nicolas Maduro congratulated the military for its "immediate reaction" in ending the assault, saying the soldiers had earned his "admiration."

Venezuela's military says it is hunting 10 armed members of what it has called a "terrorist" gang who escaped after attacking a major base in the northwest of the country.

The group of "mercenaries" led by an army officer deserter stormed the site and tried to take it over before being repelled after a three-hour battle, according to President Maduro.

In the gunfight at the Paramacay Fort base in Valencia, two of the attackers were killed and eight were captured but 10 managed to flee with weapons they stole from the facility.

A helicopter carrying a member of the secret police flies over the Paramacay military base in Valencia, Venezuela, 06-08-2017. Image: AP Photo/Juan Carlos Hernandez

Military helicopters flew over the city and tactical armoured vehicles patrolled the streets as security forces carried out an "intense search" for those on the run.

Legitimate rebellion

In a video posted online just before the attack, a man presenting himself as an army captain named Juan Caguaripano declared a "legitimate rebellion... to reject the murderous tyranny of Nicolas Maduro."

Speaking with 15 men in military fatigues standing by him, some armed, he demanded a transitional government and "free elections."

Meanwhile, a soldier in exile in Colombia, Giomar Flores, said he had contacted some of those involved in storming the base, on the internet message service WhatsApp.

He said: "My sources are reliable, factual.

"They are comrades who are there right now, in Venezuela, in the middle of the operation. They tell me ‘brother, we are resisting, it isn't true that the regime has control over us.’"

Venezuela's opposition has repeatedly urged the army to abandon Mr Maduro, but defence minister Vladimir Padrino, the head of the armed forces, said the military's loyalty was unshakeable.

Military support

President Maduro claimed the attack was "paid for" by anti-government leaders in Miami and Colombia.

He has traditionally relied on the backing of the military but there are signs that there may be splits in that support.

The armed forces said "a group of civilian criminals wearing military uniforms and a first lieutenant who had deserted" carried out the rebellion.

Presidential power

The base attack comes days after a controversial vote that created a new constitutional assembly which gives the president virtually unlimited powers.

Countries around the world have condemned the vote, with the firm that supplied the voting machines saying authorities massively exaggerated the turnout.

The day after the assembly was inaugurated chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, a staunch critic of Mr Maduro, was sacked and ordered to stand trial for alleged "irregularities".

Many fear the 545 members of the assembly - all allies of the president - will further clamp down on dissent and undermine freedoms in the struggling country.