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Lopez supporters rally outside Caracas court

Venezuela's opposition leader due to appear in court in capital city, as protests continue, killing a fifth person.

Last updated: 19 Feb 2014 20:01
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Lopez was arrested on charges of homicide and inciting violence [AFP]

Hundreds of supporters of jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez have rallied outside a Caracas court where he was due to attend a hearing of charges blaming him for a deadly episode of violence.

Heavy security surrounded the Palace of Justice on Wednesday, blocking streets leading to the building, as the slogan-chanting crowd outside grew ahead of the expected arrival of the Harvard-educated economist, who spent the night in jail.

A fifth death from the country's political unrest was reported the same day - a 22-year old student demonstrator shot in the head head during Tuesday's protest in the city of Valencia.

Lopez's dramatic surrender to national guard troops at a protest rally on Tuesday was the culmination of two weeks of tension-filled protests in the oil-rich country against the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro, the successor of the late Hugo Chavez, is under fire over rampant crime rates, runaway inflation, high unemployment and other economic problems.

Maduro ordered Lopez's arrest after three people were killed in street clashes last week, blaming him for the violence.

Fear of clashes

Defying a ban, thousands of Lopez's supporters turned out dressed in white at the Plaza Brion on Tuesday, two days after he called the march in a video message.

Lopez, also in white and draped in a Venezuelan flag, suddenly emerged in the crowd, climbing a statue of Cuban independence hero Jose Marti. After delivering a brief message to his cheering supporters, he surrendered to the National Guard.

"I present myself before an unjust justice, before a corrupt justice," said Lopez.

"If my incarceration serves to wake up a people... (it) will have been worth it."He calmly walked under escort to a National Guard vehicle as his supporters pressed in around the vehicle, blocking its path.

"We are expressing the frustration we feel. The country is in chaos, there are no supplies in the hospitals, we are sick of the insecurity. I want a Venezuela of progress," said Satle Oviedo, a 27-year-old hospital worker.

'Unjust justice'

Angel Oropeza, a political scientist, said the government was walking a tightrope.

"They may hold him for a few days. If they free him right away, it would be a sign of weakness," said Oropeza, who teaches at Simon Bolivar University.

"But if they hold on to him for a long time, it could fuel the protests even more and the government would come under more international pressure," he said.

Oropeza said that with the arrest, the only thing the government has achieved is to divert people's attention away from Venezuela's economic woes and "shift debate to an area it has always handled better -- that of political confrontation."

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