Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has called for an investigation to be launched against an opposition figure over a bizarre accusation that the government was using “chemical weapons” against anti-government protesters.
Caracas-area Mayor David Smolansky, a leading opposition figure, claimed on social media on Saturday that a red gas had been used to disperse protesters during recent anti-government demonstrations.
Caracas was “beginning to use chemical weapons” against opposition forces, Smolansky tweeted. He likened it to what he said was a recent chemical attack in Syria.
Maduro responded by saying on state television on Sunday that, “Venezuela never in its history has had biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons.” The president then called for an investigation against Smolansky over the false accusation.
The Venezuelan president added that by raising such false claims, his opponents were attempting to lay the ground for US military intervention in the oil-rich country.
The divide between the socialist government of Venezuela and the opposition has been increasingly widening in the recent past. Tensions significantly rose with the 2015 elections, when the opposition gained control of the parliament amid public anger over the economic woes and the shortages facing the once-booming Latin American economy. Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves.
The opposition says Maduro’s socialist system is to blame for the country’s problems, while the leftist government blames opposition forces for inciting political unrest.
Last year, the opposition launched an abortive attempt to oust Maduro by seeking to hold elections.