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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 January 2019

Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido ‘not afraid’ after detention

Juan Guaido, the head of the country’s National Assembly, was briefly arrested on Sunday in Caracas

Venezuela's National Assembly president Juan Guaido speaks before a crowd of opposition supporters. AFP
Venezuela's National Assembly president Juan Guaido speaks before a crowd of opposition supporters. AFP

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido said on Sunday that President Nicolas Maduro’s adversaries were “not afraid” even though he was briefly detained by intelligence agents, days after announcing he would be willing to replace the increasingly isolated leader.

Mr Guaido’s comments on Friday led some opposition sympathisers to conclude that he had declared himself interim president, prompting several government officials to say he should be arrested for treason.

Intelligence agents on Sunday pulled Mr Guaido from his car on the way from the capital, Caracas, his wife and opposition MPs said.

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He was released shortly thereafter, they said.

“I want to send a message to Miraflores [presidential palace] – the game has changed,” Mr Guaido, 35, said from a stage surrounded by cheering supporters. “Here we are! We are not afraid!”

The government said it had identified four officers of the Sebin intelligence agency who had acted in an “an irregular and unilateral manner” against Mr Guaido as part of an “attempted media show”.

“The officials involved are being rigorously investigated, have been suspended from their posts and will be subjected to the most severe legal and disciplinary sanctions,” according to a statement read out on state television.

Mr Guaido said the response was a sign that the government had lost control of its own security forces.

Asked whether he should be considered interim president, Mr Guaido responded: “That has been clarified several times.”

Venezuela’s fractured opposition has made numerous failed attempts over the past 20 years to remove the ruling socialists. Opposition leaders have called for a transition to a new government, but have not drawn up a clear plan for how to do so.

The US State Department on Saturday called on Venezuelan security forces to respect the “safety and welfare” of Mr Guaido and other MPs.

Mr Maduro was sworn in for a second term on Thursday, defying critics in the US and Latin America who called him a usurper of a nation where economic chaos has brought about a humanitarian crisis.

A regional bloc, known as the Lima Group, that opposes Mr Maduro’s leadership, said it condemned the “arbitrary detention” of Mr Guaido. It added it would reject any pressure on congress or its members.

The once-booming OPEC member’s economy collapsed following the fall of oil prices in 2014. Inflation is close to 2 million per cent and about 10 per cent of the population emigrated since 2015.

Mr Maduro says Venezuela is the victim of an “economic war” led by his political adversaries with the help of Washington. He insists the 2018 election was legitimate and that the opposition boycotted it because it knew it would lose.

Updated: January 14, 2019 09:19 AM

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