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Maduro: Grenades dropped on Venezuela's Supreme Court

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says a chopper dropped grenades on the Supreme Court in Caracas, describing it as a "terror attack." Earlier, he threatened war if his opponents were to topple his government.

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Helicopter 'attacks' Venezuelan Supreme Court

A Venezuelan police helicopter attacked the country's Supreme Court building and a government ministry in Caracas on Tuesday, in what embattled President Nicolas Maduro described as a "terror attack" by people seeking a coup.

The aircraft dropped four grenades on the court, where judges were meeting, and fired 15 shots at the Interior Ministry, where people were celebrating a social event for journalists, officials said. No one was injured.

The gun-and-grenade attack came hours after Maduro warned that he was prepared to enter a full-scale conflict to resolve the country's monthslong political crisis.

Speaking on state TV, the 54-year-old president appeared to claim that the attack from the stolen helicopter was part of a conspiracy to destabilize his Socialist government and said he had activated the country's air defense in response.

"Sooner rather than later, we are going to capture the helicopter and those behind this armed terrorist attack against the institutions of the country," Maduro said.

The Venezuelan news site CarotaDigital tweeted a video that purported to show a helicopter flying over the city, followed by the sound of several shots.

Oscar Schlenker, a DW correspondent in Caracas, confirmed the attack and described seeing a chopper flown by what he said were the police and military opening fire on the Supreme Court building. 

Pilot claims responsibility in video

A short while later, a video was distributed on social media in which the apparent pilot of the chopper - identified as Oscar Perez - called for a revolt against Maduro's government.   

"We have two choices: be judged tomorrow by our conscience and the people or begin today to free ourselves from this corrupt government," Perez told viewers while flanked by four people dressed in military fatigues and ski masks and carrying what looked like assault rifles.

Maduro said the pilot used to fly for his former Interior Minister, Miguel Rodriguez Torres, whom he accused of working for the CIA. Torres dismissed the accusation as baseless.

State television distributed photos of the pilot standing in front of the US Capitol in Washington to bolster claims that he was taking instructions from the CIA and the US Embassy.

But many of Maduro's opponents accused the president on social media of orchestrating an elaborate ruse to justify a push against people seeking to block his plans to rewrite the constitution.

Venezuela Nicolas Maduro (Reuters/Handout: Miraflores Palace)

Earlier on Tuesday, Maduro warned his supporters he was prepared to take up arms in his fight to hold on to power

Maduro warns of war

Earlier in the day, Maduro gave a speech to supporters warning that he was prepared to take up arms to defend his country from any US-backed coup attempt by his political opponents.

"If Venezuela were to be plunged into chaos and violence ... we would go to combat. We would never give up, and what couldn't be done with votes, we would do with weapons, we would liberate the fatherland with weapons," he said.

Read more: US calls for international action on Venezuela's 'tragic situation'

Read more: South American nations divided on Venezuela crisis

Maduro's comments were aimed partly at his political opponents, who have taken to the streets over the past three months to protest his leadership. But they also targeted US President Donald Trump, who Maduro claims is backing the oil-rich country's opposition to oust him.

Threat of displacement

Addressing Trump, he warned of a massive refugee migration toward the US in the event of the "destruction" of Venezuela.

"You would have to build 20 walls in the sea, a wall from Mississippi to Florida, from Florida to New York, it would be crazy," he said before reminding the US leader that "you are responsible for restraining the madness of the Venezuelan right wing."

Venezuelan protest against Maduro in Caracas (Reuters/I. Alvarado)

Almost daily protests against Maduro's government have forced a tough response from security forces

Maduro has called a national election for July 30 to win support for the appointment of a new superbody to rewrite the country's constitution without interference from the opposition-controlled congress.

His opponents have described the poll as a sham and are instead calling for the next presidential election, scheduled for late 2018, to be brought forward.

They say Maduro, who became president in 2013 following the death of longtime leader Hugo Chavez, is a dictator who has presided over a deep economic meltdown. Despite having the world's largest oil reserves, Venezuela has recently seen triple digit inflation that has caused food and medicine shortages.

Protests leave scores dead

Daily street protests against Maduro's leadership have regularly turned violent, leaving some 75 people dead, according to figures from the chief prosecutor's office.

The latest standoff, on Tuesday, saw clashes inside and outside the National Assembly building in Caracas, a few hundred meters from the Supreme Court.

DW's Oscar Schlenker reported that small improvised explosives and fireworks had been detonated as some demonstrators tried to enter the building. Some politicians were trapped inside.

Another journalist, Alberto Rodriquez, tweeted footage of soldiers bursting into the National Assembly building, resulting in a confrontation with lawmakers.

Almost 70 stores were looted and several government offices set alight in the city of Maracay, west of the capital. Some 216 people were arrested.

Read more: Protester set on fire dies amid Venezuela unrest

Read more: Venezuelan attorney general faces charges for defying President Nicolas Maduro

Venezuela's crisis has led to intervention by the chief state prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, and former intelligence service boss Miguel Rodriguez.

Ortega has filed legal challenges against Maduro's plan for constitutional reform, alleging that it is a threat to democracy and human rights.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Rodriguez criticized Maduro for not holding a referendum on changing the constitution first.

aw,mm/gsw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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