(SKY NEWS) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has said he survived an assassination attempt using drones, and blamed right-wing enemies, Colombia and US financiers.
Mr Maduro was delivering a speech in Caracas when at least two explosions were heard. He cut short his address as hundreds of soldiers broke rank in fear.
His wife, Cilia Flores, was standing next to him on a stage for a celebration of the National Guard’s 81st anniversary and could be seen on live state television wincing and looking up after the sound.
Hundreds of soldiers lined up as part of the procession on Avenue Bolivar then began running. The transmission on live television was suddenly cut short without explanation as the president was whisked away.
Pictures showed Mr Maduro’s security personnel shielding the president and cabinet members with what looked like bullet-proof sheets.
Mr Maduro was unhurt.
Information minister Jorge Rodriguez said that some of those behind the attack have been detained.
A few hours after the attack, the president appeared back on state television, blaming the “ultra-right wing” in Venezuela – his term for the opposition – backed by US financiers and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, an outspoken critic of his.
He vowed to bring those responsible to justice, “no matter who falls”.
“This is an attempt to kill me,” he said.
“They have tried to assassinate me today and everything points to the Venezuelan ultra-right in alliance with the Colombian far right and that the name of Juan Manuel Santos is behind this attack”.
Mr Maduro also pointed his finger at “intellectuals, financiers of this attack on my life” who live in Miami, Florida.
“I hope that the Trump government is willing to fight these terrorist groups,” he added.
Earlier, the information minister had said that “several” drones loaded with explosive charges “detonated near the presidential platform”.
Mr Rodriguez said that while the president and his cabinet, who was standing next to him, were not hurt, seven members of the Venezuelan National Guard were injured and are being treated.
He added: “Whoever carried out this attack, failed.”
The president tweeted his thanks for the loyalty of the National Guard soldiers who protected him, saying he is “standing and victorious”.
“Ready to continue the battle for the peace and tranquillity of Venezuela,” he added
Venezuela’s government routinely accuses opposition activists of plotting to attack and overthrow Mr Maduro, a deeply unpopular leader, as the country grapples with a crippling economic crisis.
Colombia has rejected the accusation as “absurd and lacks foundation”.
“It is customary for the Venezuelan leader to permanently blame Colombia for any type of situation. We demand respect for President Juan Manual Santos, for the government and for the Colombian people,” its foreign ministry added.
The US embassy in Caracas quickly issued an emergency call to US citizens, urging them to shelter and maintain a low profile.
The governments of El Salvador, Nicaragua and Bolivia condemned the attack, as did the FARC, the Colombian former terrorist group turned political party.
A little known group calling itself Soldiers in T-shirts said it carried out the attack.
There has been no independent verification of their claim.
In a Twitter post the group said the plan was to fly two drones loaded with C4 explosives over the presidential box but government snipers downed the drones before they could carry out their plan of assassinating the president and his wife.
“We have shown they are vulnerable, it was not achieved today but it is a matter of time,” they warned.
The group was formed by police helicopter pilot and actor Oscar Perez, who was shot dead in a shoot-out with six colleagues in January for protesting against the government. The protest involved throwing non-lethal stun grenades from a helicopter and firing blank cartridges near government buildings.
Seven journalists from state television stations VIVOplay and TVVenezuela, who were filming Saturday’s speech, were quickly taken away with their equipment, other journalists in the capital said.
They were released about five hours after the incident.
After the explosions, the Caracas fire service said there was a building on fire in central Caracas and firefighters near the scene have disputed the information minister’s version of events.
Three officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the incident was actually a gas tank explosion inside a nearby apartment.
Smoke could be seen coming out of a building window.
Mr Maduro took over from Hugo Chavez after his death in 2013, plunging the country into severe economic crisis which has resulted in malnutrition, hyperinflation and mass emigration.
Venezuela’s once thriving socialist economy collapsed after oil prices plunged in 2014.
Despite the desperate situation, Mr Maduro was recently elected to a new term in office.