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With first lady Cilia Flores in the background, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks to the press in Caracas, Venezuela, June 21, 2019.The Associated Press

Venezuelan officials said Wednesday they foiled a plot to overthrow the government that included assassinating President Nicolas Maduro and his closest political allies.

Maduro spokesman Jorge Rodriguez said on state television that a network of mostly retired police officers and soldiers planned to bomb a key government building, seize a Caracas airbase and loot Venezuela’s central bank.

He also said the plotters wanted to edge opposition leader Juan Guaido from Venezuela’s political landscape. Guaido, leader of the opposition-dominated National Assembly, is seeking to oust Maduro from power with backing from more than 50 nations.

Rodriguez said the purported network wanted to steal a helicopter to liberate Raul Baduel, a former defence minister now in jail and install him as president.

The government has claimed various plots over the years, generally offering little or no evidence to back its charges. The opposition contends Maduro uses such claims to justify his crackdown on dissent.

Guaido, who said members of his own political team were confronted by armed men from Maduro’s security forces early Wednesday, dismissed the latest claim as yet another attempt by the government to distract from Venezuela’s real problems.

Maduro came under attack last August by two drones loaded with explosives, which detonated near the president while he spoke at an outdoor military celebration. He was not harmed in the attack, which officials called an assassination attempt.

Rodriguez charged that Colombian President Ivan Duque and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera backed the purportedly thwarted coup plot, but he didn’t provide evidence.

Rodriguez showed what he said were scenes from 56 hours of intercepted video conference calls with the alleged plotters hashing out strategy for the attack planned for June 23.

The spokesman said first lady Cilia Flores and Diosdado Cabello, leader of Venezuela’s governing socialist party, were among those also targeted for assassination.

Maduro in a nationally televised address said later that the plotters were cowards backed by the United States.

“That’s not called politics,” Maduro said. “That’s called fascism.”

Meanwhile, Guaido said members of his team were detained early Wednesday on a Caracas highway by armed men on motorcycles. They wore civilian clothes and didn’t identify themselves, but Guaido later said they were Maduro loyalists.

The men told Guaido’s political staffers they would be taken to the headquarters of counter-intelligence military police. Guaido quickly arrived to defuse the situation by talking with the armed men, who left.

“Let it be clear to the regime that they will not intimidate us,” Guaido said at a news conference, urging members of the police and military to stop taking orders from Maduro’s regime.

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