Caracas, Mar 21 Defying US warnings, President Nicolas Maduro's regime on Thursday arrested a top aide of opposition leader Juan Guaido, who Washington recognizes as Venezuela's interim leader.
Guaido and the opposition-ruled National Assembly denounced the arrest of Roberto Marrero, charging on Twitter that he was taken from his home during a pre-dawn raid by intelligence officers.
The United States has repeatedly warned Venezuelan Maduro against arresting Guaido or his aides.
The United States and a grouping of Latin American nations plus Canada vigorously condemned the arrest and demanded Marrero's release.
"They have grabbed Roberto Marrero, my chief of staff. He yelled out that they planted two rifles and a grenade" as a pretext for the arrest, Guaido tweeted. "The raid happened at around 2:00 am (0600 GMT). We don't know his whereabouts.
He must be released immediately." He later told a news conference that "we won't be intimidated" by the "vile, vulgar kidnapping." Maduro and Guaido both claim to be Venezuela's legitimate leaders but Maduro, 56, retains the loyalty of the military brass and has control of state apparatus.
Guaido, 35, declared himself interim president on January 23 and has the backing of the US and more than 50 other countries, mostly in Latin America and the US.
"The United States condemns raids by Maduro's security services and detention of Roberto Marrero, Chief of Staff to Interim President @jguaido. We call for his immediate release. We will hold accountable those involved," Pompeo said on Twitter.
US President Donald Trump has said, as recently as Tuesday, that "all options" remain on the table in his drive to bring down Maduro, implying military action if he deemed it necessary.
So far, however, the power struggle in Venezuela has bogged down in an impasse, with Maduro railing daily about the US "imperialists" trying to dislodge him and Guaido touring the country to rally supporters and pledging he'll be taking over "very soon."
Maduro's forces have reinforced obstacles blocking a border bridge linking Venezuela and Colombia to prevent Guaido's supporters trucking in US aid. Extra shipping containers and concrete blocks have been moved into place on the bridge. In addition to seizing Marrero early Thursday, officers of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service, or SEBIN, raided the home in the same building of an opposition lawmaker, Sergio Vergara.
Vergara was not arrested. He told reporters that he saw Marrero bundled off into the street.
He said around 15 SEBIN officers threw him to the floor and "ransacked" his own home for around two hours, while asking where to find Marrero, a lawyer who works in the National Assembly.
"They started to bash on the door of Roberto Marrero's place, which is a few meters (yards) from my door, until they were able to get inside," he said. "The dictatorship is abducting citizens," he added.
According to a human rights NGO, Foro Penal, Venezuelan authorities are holding 866 people on political grounds, most of them without trial.
The Lima Group, a grouping that includes Argentina, Brasil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama and Peru, issued a statement "calling for Nicolas Maduro's illegitimate and dictatorial regime to immediately release Mr. Marrero" and leave Vergara alone. AFP NSA
Disclaimer :- This story has not been edited by Outlook staff and is auto-generated from news agency feeds.