CARACAS – About a hundred government supporters stormed into Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, where they beat up several lawmakers.
Witnesses said the confrontation came after an assembly session to mark the country’s Independence Day, Wednesday July 5th.
The military police guarding the site stood by as intruders brandishing sticks and pipes broke through the gate. The government has vowed to investigate. About 350 people were besieged for hours, the assembly’s speaker said.
Opposition leader Julio Borges said on Twitter that 108 journalists, as well as students and visitors, were among those stuck inside. Borges also named five of the lawmakers injured. Some were taken away for medical treatment.
A esta hora, después de seis horas secuestrados por grupos armados del Gob, mandamos un mensaje al país https://t.co/TDOTJE51s2
— Julio Borges (@JulioBorges) July 5, 2017
Venezuela has been shaken by often violent protests in recent months and is in economic crisis.
Chile, Argentina discuss trade and Venezuela
“This does not hurt as much as seeing every day how we are losing our country,” deputy Armando Armas told reporters as he got into an ambulance, his head swathed in bloody bandages.
Mercosur members in a joint communiqué strongly rejected “violence against the Venezuelan Legislative” and called on the government to end immediately all speech and actions that polarize public opinion, and to respect human rights, the rule of the law and government branches. It also reiterated its willingness to help the Venezuelan people find a way out to the current serious situation.
The U.S. state department condemned the violence, calling it “an assault on the democratic principles cherished by the men and women who struggled for Venezuela’s independence 206 years ago today”.
Witnesses said several journalists and two assembly staff were also hurt.
Pro-government protestors used metal pipes and wooden clubs in an attack on Venezuela's National Assembly pic.twitter.com/hIR9X7a0zO
— VICE News (@vicenews) July 6, 2017
Venezuelan newspaper Tal Cual blamed the attack on militias known as “colectivos”, and said the group had fired rockets and bangers as they forced their way in. Its report said some of the deputies attacked “fell to the ground and were kicked”.
Photos and videos circulating on social media showed victims of the assault with bleeding head wounds. At least one, believed to be Deputy Americo De Grazia, was carried out on a stretcher. Journalists at the scene, said reporters were ordered to leave by the attackers, one of whom had a gun.
The violence unfolded while President Nicolás Maduro was giving a speech at a government-planned Independence Day military parade elsewhere in the capital.
Before the intruders rushed the building, Vice-President Tareck El Aissami made an impromptu appearance in the congress with the head of the armed forces, Vladimir Padrino Lopez, and ministers. El Aissami gave a speech urging the president’s supporters to come to the legislature to show support for him.
A crowd had been rallying outside the building for several hours before breaking into the grounds.
In a statement via the ministry of communication, the government said it “condemns the alleged acts of violence in the gardens of the Federal Legislative Palace”.
“The national government has ordered the investigation of the aforementioned acts of violence to establish the whole truth, and on that basis, to apply sanctions to those responsible,” it said.
Just hours before the scenes at the National Assembly, Venezuela’s attorney general was facing suspension for refusing to appear in court.
The charges filed against Luisa Ortega Díaz came after she challenged President Maduro’s reform plans.
She says she is being legally pursued for defying the president, but the Supreme Court, which is dominated by government loyalists, says Ms. Ortega has committed serious errors.