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Terrified Venezuelan Dictator Launches Manhunt For Rebel Soldiers Who Attacked Military Base

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro initiated a nationwide search Monday for a group of Army officers and civilians who stole a cache of weapons during a raid on military base over the weekend.

The attack on the base near the city of Valencia occurred just hours after Maduro loyalists inaugurated the Constituent Assembly, an all-powerful legislative body that can override the country’s political institutions and rewrite the constitution.

Maduro has responded to the raid with a manhunt to track down at least 10 individuals who managed to evade capture, reports Reuters. Venezuelan officials say two attackers were killed and eight others captured during the raid.

“This band of criminals did not act out of noble ideals or patriotic principles of any kind,” Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said in a televised address. “They operated as mercenaries paid by extreme right-wing groups in Miami.”

The leader of Sunday’s raid was a former National Guard captain named Juan Carlos Caguaripano, who managed to escape with several civilian assailants. The attackers were aided by the base’s ammunition keeper, Padrino said. In a video taped before the raid, group members said their operation was aimed at instigating an insurgency against the increasingly unpopular Maduro regime.

Some security experts say the involvement of current and former military officers signals a new phase in the unrest, in which security officials may feel compelled to take up arms against the Maduro government.

“The fact that security was breached in this way, and weapons apparently seized, will be a major concern for the regime,” Nicholas Watson, a political risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence, told The Wall Street Journal. “This is highly unlikely to be the last such uprising.”

Anti-government groups have become more desperate since a disputed national election ushered the Constituent Assembly into power last week. Maduro says the new legislative body is necessary to enact reforms, while opponents call it a blatant power grab.

The election of the assembly has drawn international condemnation from governments and human rights groups. The Trump administration, which openly refers to Venezuela as a dictatorship, froze Maduro’s assets following the election and is currently weighing additional sanctions. In a report released Tuesday, the U.N. human rights office said the regime is responsible for widespread abuses including arbitrary detention and torture of dissidents.

More than 120 people have died since demonstrators took to the streets in April to protest Venezuela’s rampant crime and shortages of food and basic necessities. According to U.N. investigators, security forces are directly responsible for at least 73 of those deaths, as well as the detention of more than 5,000 anti-government protesters.

Maduro’s crackdown has in turn provoked a violent response from radical elements within opposition groups who say peaceful demonstrations have not prevented the ruling Socialist Party from consolidating power across the government.

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