A country-wide manhunt was launched in Venezuela on Monday for the men who assaulted an army base the day before, using state TV to flash pictures of the accused rebels who escaped with weapons after a gunfight with soldiers.
The attack came just hours after the first session of a new legislative superbody created by President Nicolas Maduro, which opponents say will cement dictatorship after months of deadly protests in the oil-rich but economically-ailing country.
Those who attacked the base near the city of Valencia said their operation was aimed at starting an uprising against the unpopular leftist Maduro.
No more assaults were reported, and anti-Maduro protests in Valencia were quickly subdued, but hackers attacked dozens of state websites to show their support for the raid.
Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino said in a televised address that two of the men who attacked the base had been shot dead and eight captured. About 10 others are on the run.
"This band of criminals did not act out of noble ideals or patriotic principles of any kind. They operated as mercenaries paid by extreme right-wing groups in Miami," he said.
The leader of the attack was Juan Carlos Caguaripano, a former National Guard captain. Also involved in the assault was an army first lieutenant, who was captured, and a group of civilians who escaped along with Caguaripano.
"They managed to get away. A special operation has begun for their search and capture," Padrino said, adding that three soldiers had been wounded in the pre-dawn Sunday gunfight.
|Pro-government supporters march in Caracas [Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters]|
About 2,000 government supporters marched in Caracas to show support for the constituent assembly elected eight days earlier despite wide criticism from the region and globally.
More than 120 people have died in anti-government protests since April. Maduro has said the assembly is the nation's only hope of peace but many Venezuelans say it has left them without any democratic options to oppose him.
The assembly, which is stacked with Maduro's Socialist Party allies, used its first session to fire the country's top prosecutor, who had accused the president of human rights abuses.
The move confirmed opposition fears that the body would use its vast powers to root out government critics.
Maduro's critics have long referred to him as a dictator, especially since his loyalist supreme court started nullifying laws passed by the opposition-controlled congress.
Since the assembly's election, leaders like US President Donald Trump and Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos have referred to Venezuela as a dictatorship as well.
Venezuela's opposition-controlled legislature is refusing to recognise any of the decrees issued by the constitutional assembly.
In a vote on Monday, the legislature opted unanimously in favour of disavowing the super-body's decisions to replace the nation's outspoken chief prosecutor with a government loyalist and create a "truth commission" that will wield unusual power to prosecute and levy punishments.
Maduro says the new commission should hold opposition leaders accountable for the current wave of political unrest.
Opposition legislator Delsa Solorzano says the purpose of the truth commission is to "persecute those who think differently," reported The Associated Press news agency.
The pro-government constitutional assembly is ruling with virtually unlimited authority and is expected to meet again on Tuesday.
'The Great Dictator'
Meanwhile, a group calling itself The Binary Guardians said on Monday it hacked about 40 state web sites, including the portals for the government, the supreme court and the legislature, among others.
A representative told Reuters news agency in an interview that he was a Venezuelan national but declined to give specifics about the group or his location.
He said they were not part of the armed attack on the army base but supported it.
The country's elections authority, which ran the July 31 vote for the new 545-member assembly, was among the sites hacked. Its website showed a flyer supporting the base attack, and a video showing a clip from the Charlie Chaplin film, The Great Dictator.
In the clip, Chaplin gives a rousing speech against authoritarianism.
"Soldiers! Don't give yourself to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you, who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel," Chaplin says in the speech.
"Our struggle is digital," the hacker group said. "You close the streets, we do so to networks".
It urged anti-government protesters to demonstrate "and support our valiant soldiers".