Venezuelan protest leader hands himself in

Leopoldo Lopez says he has nothing to hide as he is led away by police after days of protests against President Maduro.

Last updated: 18 Feb 2014 18:14
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Leopoldo Lopez said he had nothing to hide from authorities [AFP]

A Venezuelan opposition leader at the centre of demonstrations in Caracas has handed himself to security forces as protests continued against the government of president Nicolas Maduro.

Leopoldo Lopez got into an armored vehicle on Tuesday after giving a speech to an opposition rally in Caracas on another chaotic day in the South American nation.

"I have nothing to hide," he told supporters with a megaphone, standing next to a statue of Cuban independence hero Jose Marti, minutes before.  

"I present myself to an unjust judiciary. They want to jail Venezuelans who want peaceful, democratic change." 

Lopez is wanted on charges including murder and "terrorism", accusations he denies. 

His arrest comes after days of protests against Maduro and his socialist government, in which three people have been shot dead. A fourth person, a student, was struck by a car and killed during an anti-government protests in the eastern coastal town of Carupano.

Protests multiply

Student-led protests have multiplied this month across the nation of 29 million people in the biggest challenge to Maduro
since his election last year following Hugo Chavez's death. The demonstrators are demanding Maduro's resignation and expressing a litany of complaints from inflation and crime to corruption and product shortages.

Lopez has been one of the leaders of the opposition for almost 15 years.  In 2008 he was one of hundreds of opposition candidates banned from running in regional elections under charges of corruptions. He was also banned from seeking public office from 2010-2014. 

"The country's in an unsustainable state," said protester Jose Sahagun, 47, wearing white like many among thousands of demonstrators with Lopez in east Caracas.

"The government's mask has fallen off. This man [Maduro] has held power for 10 months and the deterioration has been fast." 

Anti-Maduro protest numbers were however much smaller than counter-demonstrations organised by Maduro supporters.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of oil workers and Maduro supporters, clad in the red of the ruling Socialist Party, dwarfed marches by the opposition.

"Comrade President Nicolas Maduro can count on the working class," said oil union leader Wills Rangel.

In Caracas, security forces in anti-riot gear patrolled the streets with water cannons as police kept opposition supporters in the city's eastern district. 

Many residents stayed home, fearing more trouble after the daily clashes that have erupted since last Wednesday's fatalities in the capital. Schools were mostly closed.

Maduro's government accuses opponents backed by Washington of seeking to promote a coup against him, similar to a botched attempt against Chavez in 2002 when he was ousted for 36 hours. The burly former bus driver and union activist this week expelled three US diplomats accused of recruiting students for the protests.

Washington said the claim was "baseless".


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