Jan 24 2019

Turkish private jet flies to Venezuela amid unrest

As Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s regime faced an existential threat from a widely supported political rival on Wednesday, a Turkish-registered private jet began a long journey that would take it from Moscow’s Vnoukovo airport to the Venezuelan capital city of Caracas.

The Gulfstream G550, according to a report published on France-based news site Euronews, had set off from Istanbul on Tuesday morning, arriving in Moscow that evening before setting off for Venezuela the next day. Flight records published on Euronews show the plane arriving at Simon Bolivar International Airport at 7:30 p.m. Venezuelan time (GMT -4).

Maduro remained defiant on Wednesday after 35-year-old opposition Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president. The United States and Canada immediately confirmed their support for Guaidó, followed by eleven countries in Latin America including Brazil, Argentina and Colombia.

As opposition supporters took the streets of Caracas and Maduro hit back at what he called a “coup attempt” by the United States in a speech on Wednesday, he also said he had received a phone call from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who pledged his support to the Venezuelan leader.

"I was shocked by (U.S. President Donald) Trump's attitude (to the situation in Venezuela). It is necessary to respect the person who won the election. We are coming out against any anti-democratic actions," Russian state news site TASS quoted Erdoğan as saying on Thursday.

Turkey’s relations with Venezuela have grown close in recent years, and imports of Turkish staple goods are thought to be a vital support for Maduro’s government, which has been battling with severe shortages.

The flight of the Turkish jet thus aroused interest and speculation from observers. The Euronews headline echoed questions raised on social media of whether the plane had been sent by Turkey for Maduro. Meanwhile, Turkish Twitter user Yörük Işık, whose account lists details of passing traffic on the Bosphorus Straits, posted a tweet reporting the plane as belonging to Turkish conglomerate Ciner Group.

Ciner Group has interests in a variety of fields, including mining and energy. Its media group also owns HaberTürk, one of Turkey’s leading media companies and a mainstay of the sizable contingent of pro-government media outlets.

Activists in Venezuela have said 13 people were killed in anti-government protests in Venezuela on Wednesday night.

On the same night, Maduro announced he was breaking relations with the United States and told U.S. diplomats they had 72 hours to leave the country.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported on Thursday that the United States had called for a United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the Venezuelan crisis.