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LATIN AMERICA | 09-05-2019 15:12

Venezuela opposition politician seeks refuge in Argentina's Embassy in Caracas

Richard Blanco is one of 10 National Assembly members charged with treason for supporting opposition leader Juan Guaidó's call for a military revolt on April 30.

A Venezuelan opposition lawmaker sought refuge in Argentina's Embassy in Caracas on Thursday, hours after the detention of a key figure in the movement over last week's failed uprising against President Nicolás Maduro.

Richard Blanco is one of 10 National Assembly members charged with treason for supporting opposition leader Juan Guaidó's call for a military revolt on April 30.

"I've come here to sleep because my life is in danger," Blanco told the VPI television station, adding that we would stay only "temporarily."

Blanco sought sanctuary after Edgar Zambrano, the vice-president of Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly, was seized by intelligence agents on Wednesday night.

The 64-year-old's car was surrounded outside his Democratic Action Party's headquarters before it was towed, with him still in it, to the notorious Helicoide prison.

He narrated the drama in real time on Twitter, while images of the incident also circulated on social media.

"Democrats, keep up the fight!" tweeted Zambrano.

Another lawmaker, Mariela Magallanes, had escaped to the Italian Embassy, Rome announced on Wednesday.

Zambrano is deputy to National Assembly speaker Guaidó, who organised the April 30 revolt by around 30 members of the Armed Forces, many of whom subsequently fled to the Brazilian embassy.

Venezuela was plunged into turmoil in January when Guaidó declared himself acting president in a direct challenge to Maduro's authority.

He has since been recognised as interim president by more than 50 countries as he steps up the pressure to oust Maduro, whom he considers illegitimate after 2018 elections widely seen as fraudulent.

'Kidnapped'

But the socialist leader remains steadfast, backed by Venezuela's powerful military high command. 

"We warn the people of Venezuela and the international community: the regime has kidnapped the first vice-president" of the National Assembly, said Guaidó.

"They are trying to destroy the power representing all Venezuelans, but they will not achieve it," Guaidó said.

The United States, European Union and several Latin American states criticised Zambrano's arrest.

On the Twitter account of its now-closed Embassy in Caracas, Washington called the detention "illegal and inexcusable," warning of "consequences" if he is not immediately released.

US President Donald Trump – whose government was among the first to back Guaidó – said he was "discussing the terrible abuses by Maduro."

Trump did not mention Zambrano but said the US would stand with the people of Venezuela "for however long it takes."

The EU and several of Venezuela's neighbours protested Zambrano's arrest while the country's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza vowed to bring to justice "accomplices to an unconstitutional military uprising,

Venezuela's Supreme Court meanwhile added three more lawmakers to the seven already indicted for treason and conspiracy over their backing of Guaidó's uprising. 

Attorney General Tarek William Saab says the two days of clashes that followed left six people dead.

The Constituent Assembly, which Maduro created to sideline the National Assembly, has said it would suspend the immunity of any lawmakers who backed the uprising.

Guaidó said in a speech after the first indictments on Tuesday that the government's "only response... is to persecute, because they no longer govern, because they no longer have command."

Venezuela has suffered five years of recession that has seen more than 2.7 million people flee poverty, hyperinflation, food shortages and insecurity since 2015, according to United Nations figures.

- AFP

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