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Venezuela court orders arrest of opposition leader Lopez

Charges include murder and terrorism linked to street protests that resulted in the deaths of three people. (AFP)

A Venezuelan court ordered the arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez on charges including murder and terrorism linked to street protests that resulted in the deaths of three people the day before.

The US-educated Lopez has for two weeks helped organize sporadic demonstrations around the country to denounce President Nicolas Maduro for failing to control inflation, crime and product shortages, and vows to push him from office.

The president accuses him of sowing violence to try 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 a Caracas court upheld a request from the Public Prosecutor's Office to order Lopez's arrest, the opposition leader 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 reporters.

"We won't retreat and we can't retreat because this is about our future, about our children, about millions of people."

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.

Venezuela's capital was largely calm today, 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, outside the Alejandro Humboldt University, where protesters waved banners saying "No More Blood".

Students were also in the streets today in the western state of Tachira, burning tires and blocking some roads.

Almost a year after the death of Chavez, the bloodshed on Wednesday in Caracas was the latest demonstration of the OPEC nation's 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.

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Tags:  Latin America  Venezuela  Maduro  Protests  


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