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Protesters run over during street clashes Russia props up socialist dictator

  • New York Post
  • 1 May 2019

Venezuela erupted in violent chaos Tuesday as thousands of protesters massed to challenge dictator Nicolás Maduro — whose government sent armored vehicles and heavily armed soldiers to beat them back.

The capital, Caracas, was ground zero for the clashes, which left at least 71 injured, including a man who was run down when one of the vehicles plowed through a crowd.

“We are in a process that is unstoppable,’’ tweeted opposition leader Juan Guaidó as he mounted his boldest bid to oust the socialist Maduro. “The moment is now!”

The situation appeared so dire at one point for Maduro, who is widely accused of stealing the 2018 election from Guaidó, that the despot had a plane on the tarmac ready to fly to Cuba, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN. The Russian government talked Maduro into staying, Pompeo said.

By evening, Maduro emerged in a televised address, congratulating the military for “defeating” what he called a coup attempt. But there was no evidence ofa government victory.

Guaidó had launched the day’s events by dramatically surfacing at dawn surrounded by several heavily armed soldiers outside the Caracas military base La Carlota and declaring in a taped message, “People of Venezuela, the end of usurpation has arrived.

“At this moment, I am with the main military units of our armed forces, starting the final phase of Operation Liberty.

“We will go to the street with the armed forces to continue taking the streets.”

Making a stunning appearance alongside him was Venezuelan activist Leopoldo López, who was freed Tuesday after five years of home detention.

López said he was released by security forces loyal to Guaidó, although Maduro’s camp claimed the opposition had bribed a soldier to help sneak him off.

The opposition leaders spoke to several hundred people from a highway overpass as government

soldiers fired tear gas from behind the gate of the military base.

Guaidó called for a new round of mass protests on Wednesday, urging the nation’s military to join the fight against Maduro.

Guaidó toldold supporters that Ma-Maduro “doesn’tsn’t have the backing or thehe respect” of the military.

But Madurouro tweeted earlier Tuesdayday that he had spokenn with the country’s military lead-leaders and hadd “their total loyalty’’ amidd whatwhat his in-information ministerminister called a coup’ launchedched by “a small numberber of traitorous mili-military person-on- nel.’’ “Nerves of steel! I call for maximum popular mobilization to assure the victory of peace. We will win!” wrote the dictator, whose country is in a devastating economic tailspin. The nation’s army chief, Maj. Gen. Jesus Rafael Suarez Chourio, tweeted that he hhad “absolutelute loyalty’’ toto Maduro.M But the governgovernment was clearly rattlerattled by the turn of evenevents, closing downdown thethe main highwayway ininto the violencelence-wracked city and sendmored ttry to quell tthe uprisining by stone- and stick-wielding protesters. It eventually yanked CNN off the air — about a minute after the cable network aired footage of the vehicle that plowed into the crowd, the news outlet said. A group of protesters angrily pushed down a metal gate surrounding La Carlota, too. “It’s now or never,” said a young soldier, whos face was covered with a blue bandanna. Meanwhile, hundreds of Maduro supporters flocked to his presidential palace. Guaidó predicted that the folwould be “the largest march in VenA rep for Guaidó in Washington insisted that the United States played no role in the uprising.

Still, President Trump made no bones about where the US stood — it has long backed Guiado’s claim to the presidency.

“I am monitoring the situation in Venezuela very closely,’’ Trump tweeted. “The United States stands with the People of Venezuela and their Freedom!’’

US National Security Adviser John Bolton warned Maduro that it would be “a big mistake’’ for him to use force against civilians.

“We recognize Juan Guaidó as a legitimate interim president of Venezuela,’’ Bolton said.

Guaidó’s whereabouts Tuesday night were unclear. López and his family sought refuge at Chile’s diplomatic mission in Caracas, according to Chile’s Foreign Ministry. With Wires

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