Venezuelan lawmakers seek refuge in embassies

Venezuelan lawmakers seek refuge in embassies

Venezuelan lawmakers seek refuge in embassies

Two Venezuelan lawmakers sought refuge at foreign embassies in Caracas on May 9, as the government of President Nicolas Maduro cracked down on allies of opposition leader Juan Guaido who supported his attempted uprising last week.

The ex-head of the state intelligence service, Manuel Cristopher, the top Maduro government official to defect during the uprising, also spoke out for the first time on May 9, urging Venezuelans to "build a new state" and combat corruption.

The moves came the day after authorities arrested Edgar Zambrano, the opposition-run National Assembly's vice president.

Richard Blanco of the Brave Peoples' Alliance party entered Argentina's embassy on May 9, according to an Argentine foreign ministry source and a Reuters witness, while Americo De Grazia of the Radical Cause party sought refuge at Italy's embassy, according to three sources close to him.

Blanco, Zambrano and De Grazia were among 10 lawmakers stripped of congressional immunity by the Supreme Court this week, which said the legislators should be investigated for crimes including conspiracy, treason and rebellion. Marianella Magallanes, another lawmaker, took refuge in the Italian embassy on May 8.

The opposition do not recognize the Supreme Court's decisions since they say Maduro has stocked it with his own supporters. The U.S. government has threatened to impose sanctions on all of the court's members.

Venezuela's Information Ministry, Argentina's embassy in Caracas and Italy's embassy in Caracas did not respond to requests for comment.

"[Blanco] is there as a guest; we can confirm that," an Argentine foreign ministry official said, on condition of anonymity.

Guaido invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, arguing Maduro's 2018 reelection was illegitimate.

Maduro's government has so far avoided arresting Guaido, which would likely provoke a strong international backlash. But the recent measures suggest the ruling Socialist Party is seeking to isolate him by pursuing key political allies.

"We take it as a given that the regime is going to keep escalating its repression," Guaido said at a news conference, referring to Zambrano's arrest. He also called for Venezuelans to take to the streets on May 11 for fresh protests against Maduro.

Cristopher, the ex-intelligence chief, was replaced by Maduro on April 30 and his whereabouts remain unknown. The U.S. government lifted sanctions on Cristopher this week, in a bid to encourage other top officials to withdraw support for Maduro.

"Enough with blaming the world for our country's disgraces, and to keep demanding more sacrifices from our people while some leaders make fortunes," Cristopher said in a video posted on Twitter by Venezuelan TV outlet NTN24.