Sunday, January 24, 2021

LATIN AMERICA | 02-05-2019 19:38

Leopoldo López taunts Maduro after court orders arrest

Madrid says it would not hand over high-profile opposition leader to Venezuelan authorities, after country's top court orders his arrest.

Opposition figure Leopoldo López sent a defiant message to Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro from his refuge in the Spanish ambassador's residence in Caracas after the country's top court ordered his arrest on Thursday.

López said Tuesday's opposition attempt to incite a military uprising against Maduro's government, which seemed to have fizzled out by Wednesday, was "part of a process."

"It's a crack that will become a bigger crack... that will end up breaking the dam," the 48-year-old told reporters congregated outside the residence.

López, who was imprisoned in 2014 and transferred to house arrest three years later, made a public appearance alongside opposition leader Juan Guaidó and a group of rebel military personnel outside a Caracas air base on Tuesday.

Guaidó – the speaker of the National Assembly legislature, who is recognised as Venezuela's interim president by more than 50 countries – tried to coax those inside the base to join the military rebellion, a move that sparked two days of clashes between security forces and opposition protesters that left four people dead.

Later on Tuesday, López sought refuge in the Chilean Embassy with his wife and daughter before moving to the Spanish ambassador's residence.

He claimed to have been freed from house arrest by rebel soldiers whose actions he said would bring down the Maduro "dictatorship."

The Supreme Court accused López of "flagrantly" violating the terms of his house arrest.

Madrid said it would not hand over López to Venezuelan authorities nor ask him to leave.

"The crack has started," said López, adding that Tuesday's rebel soldiers "realise that they're not alone."

"We had prepared for this. It wasn't improvised... there will be more military movements."

He echoed Guaidó's accusation that Maduro was "fraudulently" re-elected last year, describing his presidency as a "usurpation."

López was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2014 after he was accused of having incited violent protests against Maduro, which left 43 people dead.

At the time, he was a leading opposition figure and the founder of the Popular Will party, which counted Guaidó among its members.

The Harvard-trained López comes from a prominent family – some of his ancestors held top government positions – but has been branded as "far right" and a "coup plotter" by socialist Maduro. Popular Will describes itself as a progressive centre-left movement.

López's wife Lilian Tintori claimed on Twitter on Wednesday that their house had been robbed and ransacked while they were away.

Oppose any plotter

Maduro on Thursday called on the Armed Forces to oppose "any coup plotter" after street clashes left four protesters dead.

"Yes, we are in combat, keep morale high in this fight to disarm any traitor, any coup plotter," Maduro said Thursday at a televised event with the military high command, at which he was surrounded by soldiers.

"No one can be afraid – it is the hour to defend our right to peace," he said at a ceremony attended by 4,500 military personnel, according to the government.

"We've come to ratify our loyalty ... to the supreme commander of the armed forces, who is our only president, President Nicolás Maduro," Defence Minister General Vladimir Padrino said at the event. 

This week's failed uprising sparked two days of protests against the government in which four people were killed, including two teenagers who died of their injuries on Thursday.

Yoifre Hernández, 14, was hit by gunfire during Wednesday's clashes in Caracas, while 16-year-old Yosner Graterol suffered a gunshot wound during unrest in the northern town of La Victoria on Tuesday, lawmakers and relatives said.

Jurubith Rausseo, 27, died Wednesday after being shot in the head, the non-governmental Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict said on Twitter.

Another person was killed in the northern state of Aragua on Tuesday.

Human rights organisations and health services reported that dozens of people were hurt on both Tuesday and Wednesday.

UNICEF said "at least 15 children between the ages of 14 and 17" were injured in Wednesday's violence.

The government said more than 150 people were arrested on Tuesday.


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