August 8, 2018 / 3:22 AM / 3 months ago

Venezuela lawmaker, student leader arrested - opposition

By Alexandra Ulmer and Andreina Aponte

FILE PHOTO: Juan Requesens, deputy of the Venezuelan coalition of opposition parties (MUD), speaks during a session of the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition said that lawmaker Juan Requesens and his sister Rafaela Requesens, a student leader, were arrested in their Caracas apartment on Tuesday night, after President Nicolas Maduro ordered a crackdown following drone explosions at a weekend rally.

“Fourteen men of the SEBIN (intelligence agency) forcefully kidnapped lawmaker Juan Requesens and the president of the Federation of University Centers, Rafaela Requesens,” the Justice First party, to which Requesens belongs, tweeted.

Requesens’ sister was later released and “was in a safe place,” her father said in a video broadcast on social media that was live-streamed from in front of a Caracas jail.

Another video circulating on social media appeared to show the Requesens siblings briskly walking out of an elevator. Seconds later, they seemed to be chased back and arrested by armed security agents, some of whom had their faces covered in balaclavas. Reuters was unable to authenticate the video.

“All we know is that the SEBIN came to get him in his apartment in Caracas.

“We’re terribly anguished,” a source close to Juan Requesens said, requesting anonymity.

In a televised address later on Tuesday, Maduro showed a video of an alleged National Guard official, whose face was blurred, saying Juan Requesens had been involved in the drone attack.

“Another leader of the opposition is mentioned, one of the craziest ones, a psychopath, his last name is Requesens,” Maduro said during the two-hour speech, in which he also accused opposition leader Julio Borges of plotting to assassinate him.

Maduro did not say if Juan Requesens, a 29-year old lawmaker from the Andean state of Tachira, had been detained. The Information Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

But the powerful president of the Constituent Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, said that the pro-government body would on Wednesday discuss lifting immunity for lawmakers involved in the “failed magnicide attempt.”

“Justice is coming, and it’s coming hard,” Cabello tweeted.

Soldiers in T-shirts, a group that has said it was formed to unite the ‘resistance’ to Maduro, has claimed responsibility for the drone attack.

The ‘resistance’ is usually used to describe demonstrators who were at the forefront of massive street protests that rocked Venezuela in 2014 and 2017. The Requesens siblings were among young politicians who helped lead last year’s demonstrations, during which hundreds of activists were jailed for leading what Maduro says was a veiled coup attempt.

Maduro’s critics said he was using the drone explosions as an excuse to jail more opponents and consolidate his power in the OPEC nation reeling from food shortages, salary-destroying hyperinflation and frequent power cuts.

“These shows from Maduro seek to distract the country from the problems afflicting us: hyperinflation and hunger,” tweeted opposition lawmaker Angel Alvarado.

Additional reporting by Vivian Sequera; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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