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Venezuelan President Blames "Right Wing" for Assassination Attempt; First Lady Breaks Ranks with President Trump; Bangladesh Protests. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired August 5, 2018 - 02:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Thank you for joining us. We are live from the CNN NEWSROOM here in Atlanta. I'm Cyril Vanier.


VANIER: The Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro is defiant after emerging unharmed from what he calls an assassination attempt. The apparent attack happened while Mr. Maduro was giving a speech on live TV during a military ceremony.


VANIER (voice-over): You can see him and his wife react to the first explosion. There it is. Officials say drones armed with explosives detonated near him. Then there was a second explosion and soldiers broke ranks and scattered.

Video also shows bodyguards, surrounding the president with shields and taking him off the stage. Hours later he addressed the nation again. He blamed an international right-wing plot for trying to oust him, specifically accusing outgoing Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos for being behind the attack.

A source with the Colombian government tells CNN that the allegation is baseless. Mr. Maduro also had this message for U.S. President Donald Trump.


NICOLAS MADURO, PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator): Preliminary investigations have indicated to us that there are various financial backers of this attempt on my life. They live in the United States in the state of Florida.

Hopefully, president Donald Trump's government is willing to fight these terrorist groups, which are attempting grave attacks against countries on this continent; in this case, Venezuela.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VANIER: CNN's Rafael Romo has reported from Venezuela many times and he has been speaking with Venezuelan officials about this apparent attack.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR: The two explosions rattled president Nicolas Maduro when he was on stage. The socialist leader was in the middle of a speech during an event to celebrate the 81st anniversary of Venezuela's National Guard when the blast happened.

The president would later say that it was an attempt against his life. He blamed far right elements of the Venezuelan opposition and Colombia's outgoing president, Juan Manuel Santos.


MADURO (through translator): This was an attempt to kill me. They have tried to kill me today. And I am not doubting that everything signals that right, ultra-right, Venezuelan ultra-right and Colombian ultra-right and the name of Juan Manuel Santos is behind this attempt.

ROMO: The Colombian government said there was no basis for the accusation and that president Juan Manuel Santos was focused on the baptism of a granddaughter and not on topping foreign governments.

Asked by CNN if the Venezuelan government had any evidence linking Colombia, the Venezuelan attorney general refused to answer.

President Maduro also said, without showing any proof, that those responsible for financing and planning the attack are in the United States, specifically in the state of Florida, where many Venezuelan immigrants live.

A senior State Department official traveling with U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo in Indonesia said they heard the reports and are following the situation closely.

Venezuela is in the middle of a deep financial crisis. The International Monetary Fund recently said inflation will reach 1 million percent this year. Blackouts and shortages of basic food items are commonplace -- Rafael Romo, CNN, Atlanta.



VANIER: Jennifer McCoy is professor of political science at Georgia State University. She joins us now, she's also co-author of the book, "International Mediation in Venezuela."

Jennifer, what is your analysis of what transpired?

JENNIFER MCCOY, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY: Well, it looks like an attempt on the life of the president. That's what the government is claiming. And it's not the first. There has been a great deal of unrest in Venezuela and also a lot of dissatisfaction apparently, even among military ranks.

The government has been arresting and removing military personnel from the ranks, accusing many of conspiracy against it. So this is another in a pattern that has been going on for the last couple of years. Of course, we'll have to wait to see the evidence, to see what was really behind it.

VANIER: So that's what I was going to point out. Maduro regularly claims there are groups inside and outside Venezuela plotting to overthrow his regime. Often the evidence is shaky, sometimes nonexistent.

My question is, how much of these claims, including today, should we believe?

MCCOY: Well, obviously, something happened because something caused the National Guard, who were all standing up in rank there, to break rank and to run after hearing an explosion. So it's very possible that it could have been an attempt. There have been --


MCCOY: -- a couple of others this year.

But also some people say it was, you know, something organized by the government in order to drum up support for it. The government does regularly make accusations of conspiracies from abroad. In this case, he has accused Colombia and Venezuelans living in the United States.

VANIER: Yes, some critics of the regime just flat-out do not believe that these are bona fide attacks against the government. They believe the government's making them up.

But you're telling us there is a real threat and there are real attacks and attempts against this regime?

MCCOY: Well, there was one in the last year by a group of military personnel, who were captured and killed and who had made tapes, audio and videotapes, calling on people to stand up and rebel against the government.

And in a quite audacious act that they had, the helicopter moving over government installations. So there have been some attempts.

But it's difficult to tell this early exactly the nature of this one, who was behind it. And the fear is that the government could use this, whether real or not, as an excuse to round up even more critics or dissidents.

VANIER: How does this tie in with the current economic and political context in Venezuela?

I mean inflation is sky-high. We're into the fourth year of a recession. The economy has collapsed. There's a great deal of animus against this president.

Do you connect what happened today with this overall context?

MCCOY: Well, if it was a real attempt, then that would certainly show how vulnerable the government is because the situation is very untenable for most people living in Venezuela.

If the government -- if it was a made-up event, if it was something that the government constructed itself, it also shows its vulnerability for the dissatisfaction of life. They have announced a new economic plan that will supposedly save the economy.

But I think many outside economists do not have faith in that plan. So we are unlikely to see a dramatic improvement in living standards in Venezuela very soon.

VANIER: Jennifer McCoy, thank you so much for joining us at such short notice with your insights. Thank you.

MCCOY: Thank you.


VANIER: U.S. first lady Melania Trump is defending LeBron James after her husband, President Trump, insulted the NBA star after he'd given an exclusive interview to CNN's Don Lemon.

A spokesperson for Ms. Trump praised James for his charity work with children and said the first lady was open to visiting the new public school James has opened in Akron, Ohio.

That is in sharp contrast to this Friday night tweet from Mr. Trump.

"LeBron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made LeBron look smart, which isn't easy to do."

Interestingly, James had just been asked in the interview if he thought that the president used feuds with African American athletes to his political advantage. Listen to this.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Whenever there is something like he's in trouble, he can't wiggle his way out of something, he'll bring up the national anthem thing and kneeling or standing.

Do you think he uses black athletes as a scapegoat?

LEBRON JAMES, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS FORWARD: At times. At times. And more often than not. I believe he uses anything that's popular to try to negate people from thinking about the positive things that they can actually be doing.


VANIER: Earlier I spoke about this with political analyst, Bill Schneider. Here's what he had to say.


BILL SCHNEIDER, POLITICAL ANALYST: LeBron James is a hero. Look, I'm in Los Angeles. He's just coming here to Los Angeles to sign up with the L.A. Lakers. He is a genuine hero.

Of course, Trump didn't carry California. He lost it by over 4 million votes. And let me assure you, he's not going to carry it again. It's not the America that he knows.

But LeBron James attacked him, criticizing him in a mild way. He just disagreed with Trump and he said he's dividing the country, which very few Americans would say is wrong. And Trump just came back at him, as he does at anyone who criticizes him, and says he's dumb.

VANIER: There's another interesting upshot of this, which is that the first lady sided with LeBron on this and it's yet another instance of Melania Trump publicly distancing herself, undercutting her husband.

I just wonder, is there a precedent to this for first ladies?

SCHNEIDER: I've been around a long time. I'm never seen anything like this. What it suggests to me is very simple. The first lady is not part of the president's base. He's not the president of the whole country. He's one of only two elected officials whose constituency is the whole country. The other is the vice president.

But he doesn't represent the whole country like most presidents. He represents his base. He speaks to his base. They talk back to him through FOX News. He talks to them through social media.

The first lady isn't really part of that. Just the other day he criticized the fact that he watched CNN, which is his sworn enemy, on the airplane. And her response to that, through her spokeswoman was, the first lady's going to watch anything she wants.


VANIER: Israel is facing its biggest backlash yet over a new law declaring the country a Jewish state. The Druze minority led a massive protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday, demanding that the law be rescinded. They say it downgrades them to second class citizens.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu denies the law infringes on their rights. The Israeli government was blindsided by this criticism as the Druze are considered loyal supporters of the state.

Funerals in Zimbabwe to bury victims killed in post-election violence. Hundreds gathered to mourn a 52-year-old mother of two. Her family says she was shot in the back while coming home from work.


VANIER: Six people were killed in clashes between security forces and protesters, alleging election fraud. Newly elected president Emmerson Mnangagwa appeals for unity. Both the U.S. and U.K. have expressed concern over the situation. The main opposition party says it will challenge the results. The U.S. says it will review voting data collected by observation teams.

And there were large student protests in Bangladesh for a seventh day on Saturday. They're demanding safer roads and a crackdown on unlicensed drivers and unregistered vehicles after a deadly incident a week ago.


VANIER (voice-over): Traffic brought to a halt. Hundreds of cars set on fire and dozens of people injured. A student protest that began peacefully seven days ago in the Bangladeshi capital is spreading violently across the densely populated country, triggered by the death of two teenagers, run down by a speeding bus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have been protesting the roads for a few days over some of our demands. We are demanding justice for those students killed by a bus. And we want safe roads.

VANIER (voice-over): It was a privately run bun that mowed down the two students on Sunday after plowing through a crowd of college students. The country's state-run news agency reported that the driver had been arrested Wednesday.

But tens of thousands of students are now demanding a crackdown on traffic safety in a country where more than 4,000 people die in road accidents each year. One of the world's highest ranks, according to the World Bank.

Blocking intersections in Bangladesh's largest city, videos show uniformed school kids sitting in a circle, chanting for justice. Some simply hold up placards. One reading, "Our transport system equals serial killer."

Others demonstrators crowd around a vehicle, demanding to see the driver's certification. Unlicensed bus drivers are reportedly a common problem in Bangladesh. Anger towards them became more heated as the protesting continues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They continue to stop our buses running, as students attack and damage our vehicles. We cannot go on the roads. Students hit our drivers and our things, so no vehicles could move.

VANIER (voice-over): According to Bangladesh's state-run news agency, the country's education minister told protesters Saturday that their demands were accepted and the government would be working to bring discipline to the country's transportation. But the outraged students show little sign of stopping, paralyzing swaths of the congested capital, a city of more than 10 million.


VANIER: All right. That does it for now. Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" is up next. I'll have the headlines also in 15 minutes.