CARACAS, Venezuela – Drones armed with explosives detonated near Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as he gave a speech to hundreds of soldiers in Caracas on Saturday but the socialist leader was unharmed, according to the government.
Seven people were injured in the apparent attack which came as Maduro celebrated the National Guard’s 81st anniversary, said Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez. Maduro’s speech was abruptly cut short and soldiers could be seen breaking ranks and scattering.
“At exactly 5:41 p.m. in the afternoon several explosions were heard,” Rodriguez said in a live address to the nation minutes after the incident. “The investigation clearly reveals they came from drone-like devices that carried explosives.”
But firefighters at the scene of the blast disputed the government’s version of events.
Three officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case say the incident was actually a gas tank explosion inside an apartment.
Smoke could be seen coming out of a building window at the site of the incident.
The incident came as Venezuela suffers through a deep recession and humanitarian crisis, and amid opposition charges that Maduro’s government is increasingly authoritarian.
The president’s speech Saturday was being broadcast live on television and radio.
“We are going to bet on the good of our country,” Maduro declared triumphantly just before the explosions were heard. “The hour of the economy recovery has come.”
Seconds later Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, looked up to the sky and winced after apparently hearing an unidentified sound.
The cameras then turned to a wide shot of military officers standing at attention in neat lines as they began running.
The transmission was then cut off.