Spectator rushes stage at Venezuela’s inaugural

A video taken from government television shows an unidentified man (in red) running toward Nicolas Maduro.
A video taken from government television shows an unidentified man (in red) running toward Nicolas Maduro.

CARACAS — A spectator rushed the stage and pushed Venezuela’s new president away from the microphone as he delivered his inaugural address on Friday, startling millions watching on national television before the intruder was tackled and dragged away.

The red-jacketed man appeared to be trying to address the crowd instead of attacking President Nicolas Maduro, but the interruption raised instant fears of assassination.

‘‘He could have shot me here,’’ Maduro said, dressing down his security detail before continuing with his address.


Barely five minutes into the speech, the man in a red, long-sleeved jacket ran on stage and said ‘‘Nicolas, my name is Jenry’’ before security converged from all sides.

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The broadcast on state television cut away, then returned to the lectern and Maduro, who continued his speech.

The incident marred the ceremony in which Venezuela’s ruling party cemented its grip on power. The socialist government packed thousands of red-clad supporters into the streets outside the inauguration of late leader Hugo Chavez’s hand-picked successor, who is battling to establish his own authority.

The crowds were smaller and more subdued than those that turned out for Chavez, however, and the opposition boycotted Maduro’s swearing-in, hoping that the ruling party’s last-minute decision to allow an audit of nearly half the vote could change the result in the bitterly disputed presidential election.

Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles said the audit announced Thursday night will prove he won the presidency. Government officials appear to be confident there will be no reversal of the result by a weeks-long audit that’s only slated to begin days after Maduro’s swearing-in.


Still, the audit was a sudden reversal for a government that insisted all week that there would be no review of Sunday’s vote and took a hard line against the opposition that included allegedly brutal treatment of protesters. The announcement appeared to stem from pressure from some of the South American leaders who held an emergency meeting in Lima, Peru, on Thursday night to discuss Venezuela’s electoral crisis — and wound up endorsing Maduro’s victory.

Even if it leaves the vote standing and calms tensions, the recount will strengthen Venezuela’s opposition against a president whose narrow victory left him far weaker than his widely popular predecessor Chavez, analysts said. That will complicate Maduro’s effort to consolidate control of a country struggling with shortages of food and medicines, chronic power outages, one of the world’s highest homicide and kidnapping rates, and steep inflation that’s around 25 percent and accelerating.

Hundreds of red-clad Chavistas marched through Caracas ahead of the inauguration, shouting and blowing trumpets. But the showing, at least by mid-morning, was a faint echo of rallies during the Chavez era. ‘‘The most significant thing to emerge from this is the political victory’’ for the opposition, said Maria Isabel Puerta, a political science professor at the University of Carabobo. ‘‘The opposition’s role is strengthened and Capriles’ leadership is consolidated.’’

‘‘We are where we want to be,’’ a satisfied but cautious-looking Capriles told a news conference after the Thursday night announcement. ‘‘I think I will have the universe of voters needed to get where I want to be.’’

Some analysts said the government-controlled recount would almost certainly confirm Maduro’s victory and force the opposition to accept it. Others saw the possibility the audit could turn up enough irregularities to throw the election result into question and spawn turmoil.


‘‘It opens a sort of Pandora’s box,’’ said Edgar Gutierrez, an independent political analyst in Caracas.

In a declaration released after the 3½-hour meeting, the South American presidents asked ‘‘all parties who participated in the election to respect the official results’’ and said they ‘‘took positive note’’ of the electoral council’s audit decision.