Huge support for jailed Venezuela leader

February 20, 2014 - 10:49:39 am
CARACAS: Hundreds of supporters of jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez rallied yesterday outside a Caracas court where he was expected to hear charges blaming him for a deadly episode of violence.

Heavy security surrounded the Palace of Justice, blocking streets leading to the building, as the slogan-chanting crowd outside grew ahead of the expected arrival of the Harvard-educated economist, who spent the night in jail.

Lopez’s dramatic surrender to national guard troops at a protest rally Tuesday was the culmination of two weeks of tension-filled protests in the oil-rich country against the leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro.

A 21-year-old woman died yesterday after suffering a gunshot wound to the head in a protest march on Tuesday in the northern city of Valencia, a hospital source told AFP.

Genesis Carmona’s death raised to four the number of people killed since last week.

Maduro, successor of the late Hugo Chavez, is under fire over what protesters say is rampant crime, runaway inflation, high unemployment and other economic problems.

After three people were killed in street clashes on February 12, Maduro ordered Lopez’s arrest, blaming him for the violence.

Political scientist Angel Oropeza said the government is walking a tightrope.

“They may hold him for a few days. If they free him right away, it would be a sign of weakness,” said Oropeza, a political science professor at Simon Bolivar University.

“But if they hold on to him for a long time, it could fuel the protests even more and the government would come under more international pressure,” 

he said.

Oropeza said that with the arrest, the only thing the government has achieved is to divert people’s attention away from Venezuela’s economic woes and “shift debate to an area it has always handled better — that of political confrontation.”

On Tuesday, Lopez told thousands of his supporters, all clad in white, that he hoped his arrest would highlight the “unjust justice” in Venezuela. He drew an explosion of cheers from the crowds.

Maduro, speaking to pro-government oil workers dressed in red in the western part of the city, countered that Lopez would have to “answer for his calls to sedition.”

Defying a ban, thousands of Lopez’s supporters turned out dressed in white at the Plaza Brion on Tuesday, two days after he called the march in a video message.