Venezuela’s embattled President Nicolas Maduro has survived an assassination attempt that saw him attacked by bomb-laden drones while addressing a rally of his supporters and military backers.
The explosions prompted a mass panic that saw the assembled troops break ranks and flee the scene on a main thoroughfare in Caracas, the South American nation’s capital.
A shaken but uninjured Mr Maduro was bundled from the scene by bodyguards as authorities began an immediate hunt for the would-be assassins.
Venezuelan authorities on Monday morning (AEST) said they detained six people over drone attack.
“These terrorist acts represent a slap in the face to the expressed desire of the President of the Republic, Nicolas Maduro, for national reconciliation and dialogue,” Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said on state television.
Mr Maduro earlier blamed the US and neighbouring Colombia for instigating the attack, which was officially claimed by a formerly obscure opposition group calling itself ‘Soldiers in T-Shirts’.
“We demonstrated that they are vulnerable,” the group said in a statement.
“We didn’t have success today, but it’s just a question of time.”
Officials said at least seven soldiers were injured by the blasts.
Mr Maduro named Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as being behind the attack, adding that “those intellectually responsible, and the financiers of this attack, live in the United States in the state of Florida.”
He called on US President Donald Trump to “fight these terrorist groups”.
“Santos is behind this attack … the initial investigations point to Bogota,” Mr Maduro said.
A Colombian government source scoffed at Mr Maduro’s allegation, branding it absurd and saying that Mr Santos was celebrating his granddaughter’s baptism at the time of the attack.
“He is not thinking of anything else, least of all bringing down foreign governments,” the source said.
The self-described “son” of Hugo Chavez, the firebrand former president who died of cancer in 2013, Mr Maduro is a former bus driver who says he is battling an “imperialist” plot to destroy socialism and take over Venezuela’s oil.
Opponents accuse him of authoritarianism, saying he has destroyed a once-wealthy economy while ruthlessly crushing dissent.
In what is believed to be the first drone-launched assassination attempt anywhere in the world, the remotely controlled devices swooped over the crowd and were heading directly for the dais when they appear to have detonated prematurely.
Something appears to have happened in Caracas? Maduro speech abruptly cut short, people running. https://t.co/zRkv6MAR4b
— Tobias Schneider (@tobiaschneider) August 4, 2018
Conflicting reports from Caracas say the drones were shot out of the sky by presidential bodyguards.
Video footage captured an initially uncomprehending president interrupting his address to gaze in the direction of the first airborne blast.
Meanwhile, not far from the scene of the rally, protesters denounced the Maduro regime for plunging the once-wealthy nation into chaos and economic ruin.
Mundane items such as toilet paper are in such short supply Venezuelans are said to be using bank notes, the paper currency having been rendered less valuable by hyper-inflation than the paper it is printed on.
One of the world’s most oil-rich nations, Venezuela has recently had to import petrol because its drilling and refining capacity has been left in ruins as economic chaos engulfs every section of the economy.
Protesters blame the government’s nationalisation policies and socialist philosophy while the government’s supporters insist their nation is the victim of covert meddling orchestrated by Washington and the CIA.
At least two drone-like devices with explosives detonated near the president on Saturday, Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said.
State television showed Maduro abruptly cutting short a speech and hundreds of soldiers running for their lives.
The president was standing next to his wife, Cilia Flores, and several high-ranking military officials for the event, which was broadcast live on radio and television.
A video shows Flores wince, and both she and Maduro look up after an unidentified sound.
The soldiers lined up in ranks, then began running and transmission was cut without explanation.