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Venezuela imprisons eight coup plotters: Rights group

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro gestures as he arrives for a military parade to commemorate the 16th anniversary of the return of the late president Hugo Chavez to power after a failed coup d’état, at the National Heroes Avenue in the capital, Caracas, on April 13, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

The Venezuelan government has imprisoned five members of the armed forces and three civilians suspected of purported participation in a 2015 coup plot against incumbent president Nicolas Maduro, a rights group says.

The Foro Penal, a Venezuelan human rights organization, said sentences of between three and six years had been handed down by a military court to the individuals on Wednesday, without giving further details about the convicts and their specific rulings.

The Venezuelan Justice, another rights group, also said on Wednesday that some 150 members of Venezuela’s armed forces were currently behind bars “for political reasons.”

The Venezuelan president has ordered the release of more than 120 prisoners so far this month, as part of a policy to “heal the wounds” left over from deadly anti-government protest rallies in 2014 and 2017.

Since he came to power in 2013, Maduro has alleged that several coups have been attempted against his socialist government, including one that he believes occurred in February 2015, known as the “blue coup,” a reference to the color of Venezuela’s air force uniform.

He said at the time that the “dismantled” putsch plan included using a warplane to strike the Miraflores presidential palace, various ministry buildings, and a television network compound. But he said that the purported attempt was “foiled.”

Maduro, a former bus driver, also alleged the coup attempt had been supported by sectors of the opposition and financed by the US government.

The US State Department, however, dismissed the accusations at the time.

The country’s opposition, too, rejected the allegation, accusing the Maduro government of making up coup allegations to distract the country from acute economic problems.

“The government makes up these stories about coups to avoid talking about how the country is breaking down,” said opposition coalition spokesman Jesus Torrealba at the time.

Maduro has time and again accused Washington of being behind Venezuela’s ailing economy, saying the White House is constantly plotting to topple his socialist government.

Washington has so far imposed many rounds of sanctions on Venezuela and, together with its allies in the region and elsewhere, blamed Maduro’s government for alleged human rights violations and the country’s free-falling economy.

Venezuela, which has a quintuple-digit annual inflation rate, suffers from severe food and medicine shortages, the return of once-controlled diseases, and mass emigration.

The 55-year-old Maduro managed to seal a second six-year term last month in a vote boycotted by the opposition and condemned by some regional powers. His second term in office will formally begin on January 10, 2019.

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