Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has said an apparent assassination attempt on him while he delivered a speech on live television was the result of a plot by the “far right”.
Several drones armed with explosives were flown towards the stage from which the leader was delivering his address, but they blew up before they reached the 55-year-old.
It was not immediately clear whether they detonated prematurely or whether they were shot down.
Seven people were injured in the incident, but the president was unharmed, Venezuela’s information minister said.
Footage of the incident shows Mr Maduro giving a speech to hundreds of soldiers in Caracas when there is a disturbance.
Mr Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, look up to the sky and wince. A few moments later, soldiers rush towards the president, while crowds scatter.
“This was an attempt to kill me,” he later said, retelling the events. “Today they attempted to assassinate me.”
Information minister Jorge Rodriguez said the incident took place shortly after 5.30pm while Mr Maduro was celebrating the National Guard’s 81st anniversary.
The head of state – who appeared visibly shaken – said he saw a “flying device” explode and thought it could be the start of a fireworks display.
Seconds later, Mr Maduro said, he heard a second explosion and panic ensued.
Bodyguards rushed the Venezuelan leader away from the scene, as television footage showed uniformed soldiers standing in formation quickly scattering.
Mr Maduro said the “far right”, working with detractors in Bogota and Miami, including Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, were responsible for the attack.
“I am alive and victorious,” he said in a bullish televised address. “Everything points to the Venezuelan ultra-right in alliance with the Colombian ultra-right, and that the name of Juan Manuel Santos is behind this attack.”
Some of the “material authors” of the apparent attack have been detained, he said, adding: “The investigation will get to the bottom of this.”
Venezuela’s government routinely accuses opposition activists of plotting to attack and overthrow Mr Maduro, a deeply unpopular leader who was recently elected to a new term in office in a vote decried by dozens of nations.
He has moved to concentrate power at his fingertips as the nation grabbles with the repercussions of a crippling economic crisis.
Last year, a rogue police officer flew a stolen helicopter over the capital and launched grenades at several government buildings. Rebel leader Oscar Perez was later killed in a gun battle after over six months on the run.
Attorney general Tarek William Saab said the attempted assassination targeted not only Mr Maduro, but rather the military’s entire high command, which was on stage with the president.
Prosecutors have already launched their investigation and obtained details from suspects in custody, said Mr Saab, adding that he would give more details on Monday.
“We are in the midst of a wave of civil war in Venezuela,” he said.
Three local authorities said there had been a gas tank explosion inside an apartment near Mr Maduro’s speech where smoke could be seen streaming out of a window. They provided no further details on how they reached that conclusion.
A Colombian official with the president’s office described Mr Maduro’s claims that Mr Santos was involved in the attack as baseless.
Adding to the confusion, a little known group calling itself Soldiers in T-shirts claimed responsibility, saying it planned to fly two drones loaded with explosives at the president, but government soldiers shot them down before they reached their target.
“We showed that they are vulnerable,” the group said in a tweet. “It was not successful today, but it is just a matter of time.”
David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America who has spent decades researching Venezuela, said the incident did not appear to be a staged attack by Mr Maduro’s government for political gain.
The “amateurish” attack prompted embarrassing images of Maduro cut off mid-sentence with droves of soldiers running away in fear, making the president appear vulnerable, Mr Smilde said.
“He will use it to concentrate power,” he said. “Whoever did this, he’ll use it to further restrict liberty and purge the government and armed forces.”
Associated Press contributed to this report
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