Opposition's Leopoldo López Wanted by Venezuelan Authorities
Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. Reuters Photo
CARACAS, VENEZUELA - Venezuelan authorities sought on Thursday to arrest opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez on charges including murder and terrorism linked to street protests that ended in the deaths of three people the day before.
The U.S.-educated Lopez has for two weeks helped organize sporadic demonstrations around Venezuela to denounce President Nicolas Maduro for failing to control inflation, crime and product shortages, and vowing to push him from office.
The president accuses him of sowing violence to stage a coup similar to the one 12 years ago that briefly ousted late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, though there is little indication that the protests could topple Maduro.
"Without a doubt, the violence was created by small groups coordinated, exalted and financed by Leopoldo Lopez," said Jorge Rodriguez, a leader of the ruling Socialist Party and mayor of the Caracas area where Wednesday's biggest marches took place.
Shortly before the arrest warrant was issued, Lopez blamed armed government supporters for firing on peaceful protesters.
"The government is playing the violence card, and not for the first time. They're blaming me without any proof...I have a clear conscience because we called for peace," Lopez told Reuters.
"We won't retreat and we can't retreat because this is about our future, about our children, about millions of people."
On Thursday, Lopez was with his lawyers at his home in the same wealthy eastern district of Chacao where he was once mayor, his Popular Will political party said.
The Venezuelan capital was largely calm on Thursday, with many residents staying at home. There were, however, a few small demonstrations including one by about 200 students that blocked a road in front of a university in the east of the city.
"We want solutions to problems, not endless confrontation and violence," said student Manuel Armas, 19, demonstrating outside the Alejandro Humboldt University.
Almost a year after the death of Chavez, the bloodshed on Wednesday in the capital Caracas was the latest demonstration of the OPEC nation's deep polarization and the mutual mistrust between both political camps.
The fatalities included two student protesters and one community activist from a militantly pro-government neighborhood in the poor west end of Caracas.
Each side blamed the other in often virulent exchanges via Twitter, the country's preferred social network.
Venezuela's global bonds, which fluctuate sharply on political tension and news of unrest, were down as much as 3 percent on Thursday.
Maduro, a 51-year-old former bus driver and union activist who has staked his presidency on maintaining Chavez's leftist legacy, said further protests would not be allowed.
"They want to topple the government through violence," he said. "They have no ethics ... We will not permit any more attacks."
Some 66 people were injured, 70 arrested, some police vehicles torched and government offices vandalized on Wednesday, officials said. Some protesters, many with their faces covered, threw stones and burned tires in the streets.
The protests have exposed differences within the opposition's leadership, with some favoring a more moderate approach and saying marches that turn violent only play into the government's hands as it then accuses them of being "saboteurs."
The opposition blames armed pro-government militant groups known as "colectivos" for attacking dozens of their marches over the years, scattering their supporters and spreading fear.
"The colectivos are coming!" was a cry heard several times at the opposition's latest rally on Wednesday, prompting some demonstrators to flee for the safety of a nearby Metro station.
One of the dead was a well-known colectivo leader from the militantly "Chavista" January 23 neighborhood of Caracas.
There have been no signs the current melee may topple Maduro.
Sporadic political protests have become common over the last decade, but they usually fizzle out within days as residents grow tired of blocked streets and the smell of burning tires.
Wednesday's outburst of violence did, though, point to a widening rift between opposition hardliners and those who favor returning to addressing bread-and-butter issues such as poor services, widespread corruption and one of the world's worst murder rates.
Opposition moderates note that their biggest successes, such as turning pro-Chavez strongholds into opposition territory, have resulted from leaders stepping away from theatrical street protests to focus on voters' daily concerns. (Additional reporting by Caracas bureau reporters, Javier Lopez in Tachira; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)
Publicado el 13 Febrero 2014