VENEZUELAN president Nicolas Maduro has dodged an apparent assassination attempt as drones armed with explosives detonated while he was delivering a speech.

Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, looked up at the sky and winced on Saturday after hearing the sound of an explosion pierce the air.

He was speaking to hundreds of soldiers in Caracas in an event being broadcast live on television when the incident occurred.

“This was an attempt to kill me,” the 55-year-old said later in an impassioned retelling of the incident. “Today they attempted to assassinate me.”

Information minister Jorge Rodriguez said the incident took place shortly after 5.30pm as Maduro was celebrating the national guard’s 81st anniversary.

The visibly shaken head of state said he saw a “flying device” that exploded before his eyes, and thought it might be a pyrotechnics display in honour of the event.

The National:

Within seconds, Maduro recalled he heard a second explosion and pandemonium ensued.

Bodyguards escorted the president out of the event and television footage showed soldiers standing in formation quickly scattering from the scene.

He said the “far right” working in coordination with detractors in Bogota and Miami, including Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, were responsible.

Some of the “material authors” of the apparent attack were detained he said, adding: “The investigation will get to the bottom of this.”

Venezuela’s government routinely accuses activists of plotting to attack and overthrow Maduro, a deeply unpopular leader recently elected to a new term in office in a vote decried by dozens of nations.

He has steadily concentrated power as the nation reels from a crippling economic crisis.

In the midst of near-daily protests last year, a rogue police officer flew a stolen helicopter over the capital and launched grenades at several government buildings. Oscar Perez was later killed in a gun battle after over six months on the run.

Attorney general Tarek William Saab said the attempted assassination targeted not only Maduro, but rather the military’s entire high command on stage with the president. Prosecutors have already launched their investigation and obtained details from suspects in custody, said Saab, adding that he would soon give more details.

“We are in the midst of a wave of civil war in Venezuela,” he said.

Firefighters at the scene of the blast disputed the government’s version of events.

Three local authorities said there was a gas tank explosion inside an apartment near Maduro’s speech where smoke could be seen streaming out of a window. They provided no further details on how they had reached that conclusion.

A Colombian official with the president’s office described Maduro’s claims that Santos was involved in the attack as baseless.

Adding to the confusion, a little known group called Soldiers in T-shirts claimed responsibility, saying it planned to fly two drones loaded with explosives at the president, but soldiers shot them down before reaching its target.

“We showed that they are vulnerable,” the group said in a tweet. “It was not successful today, but it is just a matter of time.”

David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America who has spent decades researching Venezuela, said the incident did not appear to be a staged attack by Maduro’s government for political gain.

The “amateurish” attack prompted embarrassing images of Maduro cut off mid-sentence with droves of soldiers running away in fear, making the president appear vulnerable, Smilde said.

“Whoever did this, he’ll use it to further restrict liberty and purge the government and armed forces.”