Latin America

Cause of Venezuelan Chopper Crash Is Under Investigation

On board the helicopter were two lieutenant colonels as well as five lower-ranking officers

Venezuelan authorities are investigating the cause of a helicopter crash that killed seven military officers while they were while heading to a state where President Nicolás Maduro was visiting troops.

The crash of the Cougar helicopter on the southeastern outskirts of Caracas on Saturday followed days of upheaval during which opposition leader Juan Guaidó called in vain for a military uprising to overthrow Maduro, and five people were killed in clashes between protesters and police.

The armed forces said the chopper was heading to San Carlos in Cojedes state, near a military base where Maduro addressed cadets on Saturday. The statement didn't say if the aircraft was part of the presidential delegation.

In late April, a Venezuelan National Guard general and a pilot died in a police helicopter crash in the city of Maracaibo. Two other people were injured.

Meanwhile the Venezuelan opposition planned a memorial service Sunday for those killed in street fighting over the past week.

Also Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said ABC's "This Week" program that he planned to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov soon to discuss U.S. concerns that Russian support for Maduro is fueling the political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Russia, in turn, has accused the United States of aggressively interfering in Venezuela's internal affairs.

U.S. officials are working to provide President Donald Trump with "a full-scale set of options; diplomatic options, political options, options with our allies, and then ultimately, a set of options that would involve use of U.S. military," Pompeo said. "We're preparing those for him so that when the situation arises, we're not flatfooted."

Lavrov met Venezuela's foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, in Moscow on Sunday and said afterward that he hoped U.S. talk of a military option does "not reflect the intentions" of Trump.

"We call on both the Americans and those who support them to drop irresponsible plans and act exclusively within the frames of international law," the Russian foreign minister said.

The U.S. and over 50 other nations recognize Guaidó as Venezuela's rightful leader, saying Maduro's re-election last year was rigged. Washington has imposed economic sanctions on Venezuela's oil industry and individuals linked to Maduro, who alleges he is the target of a U.S.-engineered coup plot in which Guaidó is a key collaborator.

Associated Press journalist James Heintz contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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