Venezuela charges opposition leader, sparking protests
CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela’s attorney general formally charged jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López on Friday over anti-government protests that have roiled the country for two months, triggering fresh demonstrations in Caracas.
The Harvard-educated economist has been held in a military prison since his Feb. 18 arrest in the midst of an opposition protest rally against leftist President Nicolás Maduro, who has faced near-daily demonstrations since early February.
Thirty-nine people have died in clashes between security forces and protesters angered by soaring crime, high inflation and shortages of essential goods.
Attorney General Luis Ortega Díaz told a press conference that formal charges were brought against López, leader of the Popular Will party, accusing him of inciting violence, arson, damage to property and conspiracy.
The government had until Saturday — 45 days from López’s arrest — to bring the charges or release him.
The government action stems from López’s public support for the student-led street protests that have rocked the country since they began Feb. 4 in the western city of San Cristobal and spread to several other major cities, including the capital Caracas.
López and some other opposition leaders are advocates of a strategy dubbed “the exit,” aimed at pressuring Maduro — the handpicked successor to late socialist icon Hugo Chávez — to resign.
Hours after the attorney general’s announcement, about 3,000 demonstrators, most of them students, hit the streets in the east of Caracas demanding López be freed.
Under the slogan “Free Leopoldo,” some were dressed in white, a symbol of peace, while others carried the flag of Venezuela.
One young man, who wore a homemade gas mask in anticipation of security forces firing tear gas to disperse the rally, said: “We have no weapons, just stones.”
Ernesto Palacios, a Popular Will activist, told AFP: “As a sign of respect, the government should release Leopoldo López and political prisoners.”
Read more Venezuela stories by clicking on the hashtag #Bolivarian Revolution
You may be interested
Costa Rica at a glance: top news from the past weekThe Tico Times - May 21, 2018
Newly inaugurated Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado is closing in on two weeks on the job. Here are some of…
PHOTOS: International Museum Day in Costa RicaMitzi Stark - May 21, 2018
May 18 is International Museum Day, and Costa Rica celebrated with 31 mini-museums all in one at the Casa del…
Costa Rica, Panama refuse to acknowledge Venezuelan election resultsAFP - May 21, 2018
Costa Rica and Panama were two of 14 countries in the Americas to announce they would not acknowledge the results…