Watch on military for signs of fraying loyalty

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2 killed as Venezuela Army repels attack on base

Anti-government activists stand near a barricade burning in flames in Venezuela’s third city, Valencia on Aug 6, 2017, a day after a new assembly with supreme powers and loyal to President Nicolas Maduro started functioning in the country. (AFP)

CARACAS, Venezuela, Aug 7, (Agencies): As Venezuela’s political crisis spins further out of control, many are looking to the military to see if its once-unfl inching loyalty to the socialist revolution might be fraying. On Sunday morning, Venezuelans awoke to news that a small group of armed men tried to take over a major military base in the central city of Valencia after a long-mutinous national guard captain appeared in a video calling for rebellion. The government said what it described as a “terrorist attack” led mostly by civilians dressed in fatigues and deserted officers, not active troops, was quickly put down and seven people were arrested.

It wasn’t clear how much support existed for the so-called “Operation David,” but dozens of civilians startled by the sound of gunfire poured into the streets singing Venezuela’s national anthem to back the rebels. Many people wonder whether the tension- filled incident could foreshadow a bigger uprising to come from a military with a long history of rebellion and whose troops — like many Venezuelans — are increasingly caught up in the nation’s economic and political crisis. Analysts say that such a scenario is unlikely for now. While signs of disgruntlement are growing as security forces come under a barrage of rocks and Molotov cocktails during almost-daily anti-Maduro protests, soldiers also fear persecution under an opposition government. In addition, they face risks that any plans for a secret uprising would be found out.

“They feel trapped,” said former army Gen. Hebert Garcia Plaza, a former Maduro minister. Since seeking exile in Washington in 2015 following accusations of corruption by Maduro, he has emerged as a soughtafter filter of information for journalists, the opposition and, increasingly he says, distraught soldiers. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s military was hunting a group of “mercenaries” on Monday who made off with weapons after an attack on an army base carried out against what they called the “murderous tyranny” of President Nicolas Maduro. Around 20 men led by an army officer who had deserted battled troops in the base in the third city of Valencia for three hours early Sunday, officials said.

The raid ended with two of the attackers being killed and eight captured, Maduro said on state television. The other 10 escaped with weapons taken from the facility, according to officials who said an “intense search” was underway for them. Maduro claimed the “terrorist” group had ties to Colombia and the United States. Officials insisted afterward that all was normal across the country. Military helicopters flew overhead and tactical armored vehicles patrolled the streets in Valencia, a major northwestern city, in a climate of tension on Sunday after the attack. Locals said a nighttime curfew was imposed. Police dispersed protesters who had set up flaming barricades across roads.

The armed forces said in a statement “a group of civilian criminals wearing military uniforms and a first lieutenant who had deserted” carried out the attack. Maduro said the lieutenant, among those captured, was “actively giving information and we have testimony from seven of the civilians.”

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