CARACAS: Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido said on Thursday intelligence agents had arrested his chief of staff following a pre-dawn raid, signaling that President Nicolas Maduro may be cracking down on the opposition`s challenge to his rule.
Guaido invoked the constitution in January to assume the interim presidency after declaring Maduro`s 2018 re-election a fraud, and has been recognized by dozens of Western nations as the country`s legitimate leader.
Maduro, who has overseen a dramatic collapse of the OPEC nation`s economy, has called Guaido a puppet of the United States and said he should "face justice," but has not explicitly ordered his arrest.
"They have kidnapped @ROBERTOMARRERO, my chief of staff," Guaido said in a post on Twitter, adding the Caracas residences of Marrero and opposition legislator Sergio Vergara had been raided before dawn. "We do not know their whereabouts. They should be freed immediately."
Venezuela`s Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Guaido traveled around South America in February to drum up diplomatic support for his government, defying a travel ban imposed by the pro-government Supreme Court. He later entered the country via Venezuela`s principal airport without being detained by immigration officials.
Dozens of countries including the United States, major European powers and most South American nations have backed Guaido and say Maduro`s rule is illegitimate.
Venezuela is reeling from annual inflation topping 2 million percent, which has fueled malnutrition and preventable disease and spurred an exodus of more than 3 million citizens in since 2015.
Maduro says his government is the victim of an "economic war" led by his political adversaries and blames U.S. financial and oil sector sanctions for the country`s situation.