Monday, December 11, 2017

Venezuela awaits fate of jailed opposition leader

CARACAS, Venezuela — Held at a military jail, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez waited to learn Wednesday if he will be charged for violence that has erupted during protests that have revitalized challenges to 15 years of socialist rule in the oil-rich nation.

Lopez, who dramatically surrendered to authorities before thousands of cheering supporters Tuesday, was to appear before a judge to learn what charges he would face for organizing mass demonstrations that have resulted in at least six deaths and more than 100 injuries over the past week.

The hearing was closed and the outcome had not been announced by late Wednesday as sporadic protests continued to erupt throughout the capital, with protesters setting fires in the streets and police firing volleys of tear gas and blasts from water cannons.

The government of President Nicolas Maduro has accused Lopez, a 42-year-old former mayor and the leader of the Popular Will party, of attempting to foment a coup in the South American nation and authorities had said he could face charges that include homicide and causing grievous bodily harm.

A judicial official told the Associated Press that prosecutors were leaning toward discarding homicide and terrorism charges, opting instead to pursue less serious counts such as arson and incitement to commit crimes.

Hundreds of supporters waited outside the courthouse for news of the decision, watched over by National Guard troops. Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, a member of a different opposition party, showed up at one point in a sign of unity among the foes of the Maduro government.

"We are all united in demanding the release of Leopoldo Lopez," Ledezma told the AP. "We are rallying behind him."

The opposition has planned nationwide marches for Saturday to protest both his detention as well as the rampant crime, shortages of consumer goods and inflation rate of more than 50 percent that has made life difficult for many in the country of nearly 30 million people.

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