Venezuela’s government said Friday that it has arrested 58 foreigners, including an American, on suspicion of inciting violent street protests against the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres denounced what he called a plot to promote unrest aimed at overthrowing the government and said that among those detained was a man identified as Todd Michael Leininger, who he said had with him two pistols, two assault rifles, military uniforms and a U.S. passport.
“What was this man doing with those armaments at a guarimba (barricade) in San Cristobal,” said Rodriguez Torres about Leininger, 32. San Cristobal is a city in western Venezuela.
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Among the other foreigners arrested were Colombians, a Spaniard and an Arab, Rodriguez Torres said.
Opponents have repeatedly rejected the government’s frequent allegations about coup attempts, calling them an effort to distract attention from the country’s problems. They say the protests arise from widespread discontent with 57 percent inflation, record shortages and authoritarian practices.
Venezuela’s Attorney General’s Office says the violence during months of anti-government protests has killed at least 41 people on both sides, with another 674 injured and about 2,200 detained.
Rodriguez Torres said that an official at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas had been in contact with a Venezuelan opponent of the government allegedly involved in the plot and helped the person get a U.S. visa.
There was no immediate comment from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas about the accusations. U.S. government officials in the past have denied they are trying to topple Venezuela’s government