Opposition leader jailed over protests in Venezuela


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CARACAS, Venezuela -- Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez emerged from days of hiding and surrendered to police before thousands of supporters Tuesday, saying he hoped his arrest would awaken Venezuela to the corruption and economic disaster 15 years of socialist rule has caused.

Speaking with a megaphone to more than 10,000 supporters, Mr. Lopez said he didn't fear going to jail to defend his beliefs and constitutional right to peacefully protest against President Nicolas Maduro's government.

"If my jailing serves to awaken a people, serves to awaken Venezuela, ... then it will be well worth the infamous imprisonment imposed upon me directly, with cowardice, by Nicolas Maduro," Mr. Lopez told the sea of protesters dressed in white to symbolize nonviolence. Venezuela's red, yellow and blue flag hung from his shoulders.

The U.S.-educated Mr. Lopez was taken to a military base outside the capital. His Popular Will party said he was to appear today before a civilian judge on charges that include homicide and inciting violence during protests last week in which three people were killed as government forces clashed with protesters.

The threat of more violence hung over Tuesday's demonstration, as Mr. Maduro led a rival march to denounce what he calls a "fascist" plot to overthrow him. But Mr. Lopez's repeated appeals for restraint, a strong police presence and heavy rain seemed to calm emotions, and there was no major violence in the capital.

A serious outburst was reported in Valencia, the third-largest city, where opposition protesters clashed with National Guard troops. Enzo Scrano, a mayor of one of the city's districts and an opposition party member, said 11 protesters were wounded, including at least three with bullet wounds fired by unknown gunmen on motorcycles. One woman was shot in the head and was in critical condition, he said.

After his short speech at the Caracas opposition demonstration, Mr. Lopez descended from a statue of 19th century Cuban independence hero Jose Marti, waving a flower over his head, and walked a few feet to a police line, where he surrendered himself to face what supporters said were trumped-up charges. His fist raised in defiance, Mr. Lopez was pulled into an armored vehicle and driven away. A cordon of heavily armed police blocked supporters from marching downtown as originally planned.

Hours after the arrest, Mr. Maduro addressed his own crowd of red-shirted, pro-government oil workers, and said he personally oversaw security arrangements to make sure the opposition march and Mr. Lopez's surrender didn't generate violence.

"Nobody has the right to subject families to street violence by small, armed and hooded groups that today, the 18th of February, wanted to overthrow the government," Mr. Maduro said, accusing Mr. Lopez of "psychological warfare" and treason. "In Venezuela, everyone has full political freedoms."

Mr. Maduro said Mr. Lopez would be escorted to a jail outside Caracas by National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, who in recent days met with the opposition leader's family to warn them of an attempt by right-wing extremists to assassinate him. He didn't offer details or evidence to support the claim.


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