CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan authorities have arrested congressional president Henry Ramos’ head of security on allegations of masterminding the beating of police officers, including a female agent, during a protest march this week.
Videos showed half a dozen youths attacking three officers with their fists and sticks on a road during chaotic scenes at Wednesday’s opposition rally demanding a referendum to recall socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
“The intellectual author who paid those terrorists to beat that young policewoman is in jail,” Maduro said late on Thursday, referring to opposition leader Ramos’ security boss Coromoto Rodriguez.
“He will be judged and sent to a maximum security jail.”
Ramos’ aides said Rodriguez had nothing to do with Wednesday’s beating of the police officers, at least one of whom was a woman, according to state media. They described his arrest as an attempt to intimidate the head of the National Assembly.
Rodriguez was taken on Thursday in a cafe near his house, they said, and was being held on Friday at the Caracas headquarters of Venezuela’s intelligence service.
“Typical cowardly attitude. As they don’t dare with me, they persecute humble people who work with me,” Ramos tweeted.
Venezuela’s opposition won control of the National Assembly in December elections, due to a voter backlash against Maduro’s handling of the OPEC nation’s economic crisis, and are seeking to oust him this year via a referendum.
Maduro, who won a 2013 election to replace late president Hugo Chavez, charges the opposition is seeking a coup against him with U.S. backing. He described security official Rodriguez as a known “torturer” prior to socialist rule in Venezuela.
Both sides constantly accuse each other of violence.
The opposition says security forces have been heavy-handed in blocking marches and repressing protesters with pepper-spray and teargas. Officials say opposition hotheads are looking for trouble by throwing stones at security forces and attacking officers in incidents like the beating of the officers.
State media identified one of the three as female officer Dubraska Alvarez, 22, who described being beaten, kicked and hit by objects. “You can see in the videos that at no point did I attack them,” she told state TV, saying police had orders to keep the protesters off a road and only had riot shields.
Alvarez identified the worst-beaten officer in the video as a male, though Maduro had referred only to a policewoman.
Half a dozen protesters were detained on Wednesday, including some of those involved in the beating incident, witnesses said.
Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne and Diego Ore; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by W Simon