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Guaido says Venezuelan agents kidnapped his chief of staff

By Renzo Pipoli
Guaido says Venezuelan agents kidnapped his chief of staff
Roberto Marrero, chief of staff of Venezuela's National Assembly and interim leader Juan Guaido, was kidnapped early Thursday by government security agents, Guaido said. In this, image Marrero speaks to the media at main doors of Palace of Justice in Caracas in June 2014. At the time, he was the defense of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. File Photo by Santi Donaire/EPA

March 21 (UPI) -- Venezuela's National Assembly leader Juan Guaido, who leads opposition efforts to have immediate elections, said President Nicolas Maduro's agents kidnapped his chief of staff.

Members of the Venezuelan intelligence units, known as Sebin, early Thursday raided the home of Roberto Marrero, the interim government's chief of staff, and took him after accusing him of possessing two rifles and a grenade, El Nacional reported.

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The residence of Sergio Vergara, legislator of the National Assembly, also was raided, but he was not taken away. Instead, his driver was kidnapped.

"Take care of the president," Marrero said, according to a message he was able to send, also rejecting any accusation of weapons possession. The raids took place around 2 a.m. local time, the newspaper said.

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The Venezuelan government website did not have any comment. Maduro, who uses Twitter frequently, did not have any comment as of mid-morning Thursday.

"The United States condemns raids by Maduro's security services and the detention of Roberto Marrero, Chief of Staff to Interim President Guaido. We call for his immediate release. We will hold accountable those involved," tweet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

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The secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, demanded that the Venezuelan government prove immediately that Marrero is alive.

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The raids came just hours after the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned the Venezuelan government of Maduro was increasingly using arbitrary detention, torture and killing.

Bachelet cited "numerous violations and abuses by security forces and pro-government armed groups, including the excessive use of force, killings, arbitrary detentions, torture, threats and intimidation."

Bachelet's investigation of "possible extrajudicial executions by security forces" includes examining the Special Actions Force, or known as FAES for its Spanish acronym, killing "at least 205 persons."

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The Venezuelan constitution allows the National Assembly leader to take over the presidency if it is declared vacant. The National Assembly declared the presidency of Maduro vacant after he was sworn in for a second term on Jan. 10.

According to Venezuelan law, the president of the National Assembly is to take over as interim president and call free elections as soon as possible. He already has sent ambassadors to several countries and taken over Venezuelan government diplomatic offices in the United States.

Maduro, on the other hand, has the backing of the armed forces.

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The confrontation is going on amid a massive exodus that has seen over 3 million Venezuelans leave the country to escape the scarcity of food and medicine, political violence and a mismanaged economy.

President Donald Trump said earlier this week that the United States still could harden sanctions against Venezuela. The U.S. already already announced sanctions that include preventing any Venezuelan oil sale unless the revenue goes to Guaido, which has forced Maduro to sell it elsewhere. Venezuela's main source of revenue is oil sales.

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