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Venezuelan Police Helicopter Fires On Supreme Court, Interior Ministry

During a protest in Caracas this week, an opposition activist stands near graffiti against a constituent assembly proposed by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to rewrite the constitution. A political and economic crisis has spawned often violent demonstrations by protesters demanding Maduro's resignation.

When explosions were heard Tuesday night in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, it was unclear exactly what was happening and who was responsible for the attack. Details are still being sorted out.

Reports quote unidentified officials saying a rogue faction of Venezuela's police department dropped grenades from a helicopter on the country's Supreme Court. Other reports say men in a stolen police helicopter fired on Venezuela's Supreme Court and Interior Ministry.

The New York Times reports:

"A video shot from a window and posted on Twitter shows a helicopter swooping in a circle around a building as explosions are heard.

"Another video posted on social media on Tuesday showed a uniformed man identified as Oscar Pérez, flanked by masked, heavily armed men in uniforms, taking responsibility for the operation. The speaker said he represented a coalition of military, police and civilian personnel who opposed what he called "this transitional, criminal government."

President Nicolás Maduro, who happened to be speaking live on state television at the time of the incident, said a "terrorist attack" aimed at ousting him from power had been thwarted.

Opponents of Maduro accuse him of orchestrating the attack to justify a crackdown on Venezuelans who are trying to block his plans to rewrite the constitution.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

"The plan for a new constitution, which has helped fuel deepening unrest, is highly unpopular as it would usurp what few legal avenues of dissent are left to the country's beleaguered opposition.

"About 80 people have died in three months of constant protests against the embattled president, who has been unable to stop an economic free fall that has seen the economy nearly collapse, with inflation rising to 700 percent while food and medicine have become scarce.

"The president has called a July 30 vote for a special assembly with powers to redraft the constitution, which opponents say with do away with last vestiges of Venezuelan democracy."

It was unclear if Tuesday night's assault resulted in any casualties.

President Maduro said "sooner or later, we will capture the helicopter and those who have committed this armed attack."

The helicopter incident capped a volatile 24 hours that began with widespread looting in the coastal city of Maracay, which is about a 90 minute drive from Caracas.

The looting in Maracay began Monday night and continued Tuesday when opposition lawmakers got into a heated scuffle with security forces assigned to protect the National Assembly.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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