Venezuela’s Capriles says blocked at airport by armed gang

September 7, 2016 11:56 PM EDT

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By Girish Gupta

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan opposition leader and two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said hooded and armed pro-government gang had surrounded the airport of Margarita island after he landed on Wednesday evening to prevent him and others on the flight leaving.

Using social media, Capriles posted videos of chaotic scenes, in which people appeared to be banging on the doors and windows of the airport, adding he was stuck in the baggage area.

Capriles pinned the blame on President Nicolas Maduro, whom he is pushing to remove in through a referendum this year.

"You coward, Maduro. You sent an armed gang to Margarita airport for me!" he wrote on Twitter, saying he had been blocked at the airport for three hours.

On his weekly TV show, the Venezuelan government's second most powerful figure Diosdado Cabello laughed off Capriles' suggestion that Maduro was to blame.

"If he carries on like this, he'll end up hearing voices," said Cabello.

Reuters was unable to verify the videos, and the government did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

Capriles began publishing tweets about the incident at 8.30 pm (0030 GMT). Just after 11 pm (0300 GMT), he said that other people at the airport had been allowed to leave.

Tensions are running high in crisis-struck Venezuela after a huge opposition march earlier this month seeking Maduro’s removal and detentions of opposition supporters.

Maduro, whose popularity has sunk, himself was embarrassed on the island on Friday when scores of people jeered him and chased him down the street banging pots and pans.

More than 30 people were briefly detained, according to activists. One prominent journalist, who helped publicize the events, was charged on Monday with money laundering and remains behind bars.

Margarita, once a major tourist draw, but now crumbling as Venezuela suffers a major economic crisis, will host foreign dignitaries at a summit for the Non-Aligned Movement next week. Last Thursday, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Caracas to protest against Maduro, hoping to speed up a referendum to oust the president.

Protests organized for Wednesday were far smaller, but opposition leaders reported isolated incidents of government intimidation.

Earlier on Wednesday, national assembly head Henry Ramos said on Twitter he and the head of the opposition coalition were followed by intelligence agents after a joint press conference.

(Additional reporting by Diego Ore and Daniel Kai.; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Simon Cameron-Moore)



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