A police helicopter attack on Venezuela’s Supreme Court on Tuesday, has escalated the country’s political crisis, with President Nicolas Maduro condemned it a “terrorist” attack.
The 54-year-old socialist leader, who has faced three months of opposition protests as well as dissent from within government, said the helicopter shot at the judicial building and also threw some grenades.
Witnesses reported hearing several detonations in downtown Caracas, where the pro-Maduro Supreme Court, the presidential palace and other key government buildings are located.
The helicopter also flew over the Interior Ministry, Maduro said in a speech.
“Sooner rather than later we are going to capture the helicopter and those behind this armed terrorist attack against the institutions of the country,” he said.
The Supreme Court is particularly hated by Maduro’s opponents for its string of rulings bolstering his power and undermining the opposition-controlled legislature.
“There was a social activity going on in the Supreme Court. They could have caused dozens of deaths,” Maduro said of the helicopter attack.
Opposition leaders have long been calling on Venezuela’s security forces to stop obeying a president they call a murderous dictator.
But there was also some speculation on social media among opposition supporters that the helicopter attack could have been staged to justify repression or cover up drama at Venezuela’s National Assembly, where two dozen lawmakers said they were being besieged by pro-government gangs.
Earlier on Tuesday, Maduro warned that he and supporters would take up arms if his socialist government was violently overthrown by opponents who have been on the streets since April. At least 75 people have died in the unrest.
“If Venezuela was plunged into chaos and violence and the Bolivarian Revolution destroyed, we would go to combat. We would never give up, and what couldn’t be done with votes, we would do with arms, we would liberate the fatherland with arms,” he said.
Maduro, who replaced Hugo Chavez in 2013, is pushing a July 30 vote for a special super-body called a Constituent Assembly, which could rewrite the national charter and supersede other institutions such as the opposition-controlled congress.