'Lawmakers hurt' in Venezuela clashes


The Independence Day clashes are the latest outbreak of violence in a country struggling with a deepening economic crisis and sometimes bloody street protests demanding a change of government.

Video from inside the building showed blood on walls and wounded lawmakers being tended to by colleagues.

At least seven legislative employees and five lawmakers have been injured, according to National Assembly President Julio Borges.

Lawmakers pledge vote will go ahead

Despite the violence, lawmakers vowed to proceed with a scheduled session to discuss a unofficial plebiscite — a move toward an election seeking to oust Maduro — National Assembly vice president and opposition leader Freddy Guevara said on state-run TV station Capitolio.

Opposition lawmaker Americo De Grazia is led away by bodyguards and a National Assembly employee after he was injured by government supporters.

The July 16 plebiscite will pose questions on the level of confidence in Maduro and seek public input on his rewriting of the constitution.

Guevara, told CNN Español that lawmakers Armando Armas and Américo de Grazia were injured in the confrontation with Maduro loyalists. Lawmakers Nora Brancho, Luis Carlos Padilla and Leonardo Regnault were also injured, according to a Twitter post from the assembly.

Assembly member Armando Armas, his head and white-shirt bloodied, posted a video on Twitter with the message: “We were elected to defend the country. Today, July 5th, barbarity wants to impose itself before civility. Down with the dictatorship!”

“We will defend Venezuela at all costs, even with our lives,” he said in the video.

Violence follows continuing unrest

The assault on the National Assembly follows several tumultuous days for the troubled nation. Police officer Oscar Perez last week stole a government helicopter with a team of accomplices, flew over the Supreme Court, dropped grenades, fired shots and then flew around the country’s capital, Caracas, for about two hours.

No one at the Supreme Court was injured and military forces did nothing to intervene — even though Perez was flying in plain sight. Government critics said it was a stunt orchestrated by Maduro to justify using a heavier hand on protesters. Maduro condemned the attack and denied any involvement.

This week, Perez appeared in a video saying the goal of his mission was achieved, which was to damage the building housing the Justice Ministry and Supreme court without causing collateral damage.

“We are not assassins, like you, Mr. Nicolas Maduro,” he said.

Maduro also battled last week with his attorney general, Luisa Ortega, who broke government ranks this spring and has lambasted Maduro for alleged human rights abuses. The Maduro-backed Supreme Court froze Ortega’s assets and ordered her not to leave the country as she may face a trial.

“I have committed no crime nor errors and I am not going to submit to this unconstitutional and illegitimate court,” Ortega said at a news conference Tuesday, explaining why she failed to attend a Supreme Court hearing.

Months of unrest

Opposition lawmakers were physically pushed around last week at the National Assembly by the national guard, which is controlled by Maduro.

Near daily clashes between government forces and protesters have paralyzed the country for months. More than 80 people have died since the beginning of this latest round of civil unrest, according to the attorney general’s office.

With unemployment set to surpass 25% this year and severe food shortages, some Venezuelans have opted to leave the country.

They are crossing the border into Colombia after enduring months without basics such as milk, eggs, flour, soap and toilet paper.

Venezuelans are also struggling with a shortage of medicine, and some are also taking the sick to Colombian hospitals.

Many are leaving the country for good. Venezuelans are the top asylum seekers in the United States. More than 14,700 Venezuelans sought asylum in the 2016 fiscal year, up 160% compared with 2015 when 5,605 Venezuelans applied for asylum.

The government has been accused of intimidating and restricting the media, taking CNN en Español off the air. It tightly controls visas for foreign journalists including CNN, arresting those who report from inside the country without proper permits.

CNN’s Julia Jones, Ana Melgar, Gisela Crespo, Nicole Chavez and Marilia Brocchetto contributed to this report.

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