Venezuela burns after arrest of opposition leader Lopez

Feb 20, 2014

Leopoldo Lopez surrenders to national guardsmen after impassioned speech to supporters in Caracas

AFP/Getty Images

VIOLENCE continued in Venezuela last night after opposition figurehead Leopoldo Lopez was arrested.

Overnight, fires burned in cities around the country, as police and military forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds of anti-government protesters.

President Nicolas Maduro ordered National Guard tanks and troops into districts of Caracas to disperse protesters and quell what he called a "coup" attempt, The Guardian reports.

Four people have been killed in the violence, including 22-year-old beauty queen Genesis Carmona, who was photographed being rushed to hospital on motorbike on Tuesday night, but later died of her injuries. Carmona, a student of marketing and a professional model, had been shot by "unidentified gunmen", The Times reports.

Opposition leaders blamed government loyalists for the deaths.

Lopez came out of hiding and handed himself in to authorities after negotiating terms with the head of parliament, Diosdado Cabello. The opposition leader staged a rally on the streets of Caracas before surrendering to national guardsmen.

In an impassioned speech, Lopez swore that he would never leave Venezuela, and promised that in spite of his arrest, the campaign for change would continue: "This struggle is for our youth, for the students, for the repressed and imprisoned, for all the people of Venezuela who have suffered from queues and shortages, for young people who have no job and no future," he said.

Maduro, who has led the country since the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, blamed Lopez for the violence. The Harvard-educated opposition member now faces charges of double homicide, terrorism, damage to public property and sedition, The Guardian reports.

"This wasn't opposition protesters. This wasn't students. This was a provocation by people with training," a local government official Jean Carlos Mendoza told the paper.

Maduro expelled US diplomats this week, accusing them of conspiring against the government, by recruiting students to the protest. Washington was considering reciprocal action on Wednesday, Reuters reports.

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Five people have been killed.