Helicopter 'Attacks' Venezuela's Supreme Court

Hours after warning that he was prepared to enter a full-scale conflict to resolve the country's months-long political crisis, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Tuesday a police helicopter had attacked the Supreme Court building in Caracas. Speaking on state TV, the 54-year-old president said the chopper fired on the offices and launched grenades in a "terror attack". He said one of the grenades didn't explode. Maduro appeared to claim that the incident was part of a conspiracy to destabilize his socialist government and said he had activated the country's air defense in response.

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. DW correspondent in Caracas, Oscar Schlenker, 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.  In a bizarre twist, 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.

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 from 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.

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.

Refugee crisis

Addressing Trump, he warned of a massive refugee crisis for 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 ..." before reminding the US leader that "you are responsible for restraining the madness of the Venezuelan right-wing."
Maduro has called a national election for July 30 to win support for the appointment of a new super-body 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, due in 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 crisis. 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 had take place 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 the National Guard bursting into the national assembly building, resulting in a confrontation with lawmakers. Elsewhere, almost 70 stores looted and several government offices set alight in the city of Maracay, west of the capital. Some 216 people were arrested. Venezuela's worsening crisis has led to the intervention of the chief state prosecutor Luisa Ortega and the country's former intelligence service boss Miguel Rodriguez.

Ortega has filed legal challenges against Maduro's plan for constitutional reform, alleging 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.