Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Court says two Venezuela opposition leaders sent back to prison

CARACAS, Venezuela — Two of Venezuela's leading opposition figures were seized at their homes by state security agents early Tuesday in the first moves by President Nicolas Maduro's government against prominent enemies since a widely denounced vote granting the ruling party nearly unlimited powers.

The Venezuelan Supreme Court said Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma had violated the terms of their house arrest by criticizing the government in messages released on social media in recent days.

The court, which is controlled by Maduro allies, also said it had received "reports from official intelligence sources" that the two men had been planning to flee.

Relatives and allies of Lopez and former Caracas Mayor Ledezma earlier reported on social media that both had been detained. Lopez's wife posted what appeared to be video of him being taken from their home after midnight.

"They've just taken Leopoldo from the house," Lilian Tintori tweeted. "We don't know where he is or where they're taking him."

Allies of Ledezma posted video of a man who appeared to be the opposition leader being taken by state security as a woman screams for help.

"They're taking Ledezma!" she cries. "It's a dictatorship!"

Attorney Juan Carlos Gutierrez said the government's decision to return Lopez to prison was "completely arbitrary" and said Lopez had obeyed the conditions imposed on his house arrest and had never had plans to flee.

Lopez had been released from the Ramo Verde military prison July 8 after serving three years of a 13-year sentence for inciting violence at opposition rallies. Many human rights groups considered him a political prisoner.

Ledezma was also detained in 2015 and has been under house arrest. Both leaders recently posted videos online denouncing Maduro's decision to hold a vote for a constitutional assembly with the power to overhaul Venezuela's political system.

The United States said it holds Maduro "personally responsible" for the health and safety of the two.

They were being "unjustly" held by the Venezuelan government after its "outrageous seizure of power through a sham election" over the weekend, said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Maduro said Monday evening he had no intention of deviating from his plans to rewrite the constitution and go after a string of enemies, from independent Venezuelan news channels to gunmen he claimed were sent by neighboring Colombia to disrupt the vote as part of an international conspiracy led by the man he calls "Emperor Donald Trump."

"They don't intimidate me. The threats and sanctions of the empire don't intimidate me for a moment," Maduro said on national TV. "I don't listen to orders from the empire, not now or ever ... Bring on more sanctions, Donald Trump."

Hours earlier, Washington added Maduro to a steadily growing list of high-ranking Venezuelan officials targeted by financial sanctions, escalating a tactic that has so far failed to alter his socialist government's behavior. For now, the Trump administration has not delivered on threats to sanction Venezuela's oil industry, which could undermine Maduro's government but raise U.S. gas prices and deepen the humanitarian crisis here.

The sanctions came after electoral authorities said more than 8 million people voted Sunday to create the constitutional assembly — a turnout doubted by independent analysts while the election was labeled illegitimate by leaders across the Americans and Europe.

Venezuela's National Electoral Council said turnout in Sunday's vote was 41.53 percent, or 8,089,320 people. The result would mean the ruling party won more support than it had in any national election since 2013, despite a cratering economy, spiraling inflation, shortages of medicine and malnutrition. Opinion polls had said some 85 percent of Venezuelans disapproved of the constitutional assembly and similar numbers disapproved of Maduro's overall performance.

Opposition leaders estimated the real turnout at less than half the government's claim in a vote watched by government-allied observers but no internationally recognized poll monitors.

An exit poll based on surveys from 110 voting centers by New York investment bank Torino Capital and a Venezuela public opinion company estimated 3.6 million people voted, or about 18.5 percent of registered voters.

The constituent assembly will have the task of rewriting the country's constitution and will have powers above and beyond other state institutions, including the opposition-controlled congress.

Maduro has said the new assembly will begin to govern within a week. Among other measures, he said he would use the assembly's powers to bar opposition candidates from running in gubernatorial elections in December unless they sit with his party to negotiate an end to hostilities that have generated four months of protests that have killed at least 120 and wounded nearly 2,000.

Along with the U.S., the European Union and nations including Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Spain and Britain criticized Sunday's vote. Maduro said he had received congratulations from the governments of Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua, among others.

Maduro called the constitutional assembly in May after a month of protests against his government, which has overseen Venezuela's descent into a devastating crisis during its four years in power. Due to plunging oil prices and widespread corruption and mismanagement, Venezuela's inflation and homicide rates are among the world's highest, and widespread shortages of food and medicine have citizens dying of preventable illnesses and rooting through trash to feed themselves.

Court says two Venezuela opposition leaders sent back to prison 08/01/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 1, 2017 4:59pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Lightning approaches decision time for Mikhail Sergachev

    Lightning Strikes

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mikhail Sergachev had dinner with his host family from juniors Monday.

    The Lightning has to decide, as early as this weekend whether Mikhail Sergachev will stick in the NHL or return to juniors for another season. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
  2. Tampa man charged in hit-and-run crash that killed bicyclist on I-4 exit ramp in Tampa

    Accidents

    TAMPA — A 44-year-old Tampa man was arrested and charged Wednesday in a hit-and-run crash that killed a bicyclist earlier in the day.

    Christopher Jerimiah Cole, 44, of Tampa was driving this silver Mercedes on Wednesday when it struck a bicyclist on the exit ramp from eastbound Interstate 4 to southbound U.S. 301, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. Cole kept driving, troopers said. The bicyclist, a 45-year-old Brandon man, died at the scene. His name was not immediately released because troopers were working to notify his family. [Florida Highway Patrol]
  3. Quarterbacks, head coach targeting Vernon Hargreaves; 'I'm not producing,' he says

    Bucs

    Eli Manning gathered his receivers together during the Giants' Week 4 game against the Bucs and informed them of the weakest link of the secondary he planned to target that afternoon.

    Quarterbacks this season have a 128.7 rating when targeting Vernon Hargreaves. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  4. Rick Baker's radio ad said Rick Kriseman missed NAACP event---but he didn't.

    Blogs

    A radio ad narrated by St. Petersburg civil rights activist Sevell Brown and paid for by a political-action committee supporting Rick Baker asserts that Mayor Rick Kriseman "couldn't be bothered to show up" for a recent NAACP event.

    Rick Kriseman didn't skip recent NAACP event, but Rick Baker radio ad claims he did
  5. Demolition begins on wing of Channelside Bay Plaza, making way for Water Street Tampa (w/video)

    Business

    TAMPA — The original developers of Channelside Bay Plaza at first wanted the name of the complex to include the word "Garrison." That would have fit, because the center turned out to be fort-like, inwardly focused and unwelcoming.

    A pedestrian bridge in the southwest wing of Channelside Bay Plaza was demolished in Tampa on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. [Gabriella Angotti-Jones  | Times]