Venezuelan authorities sought on Thursday to arrest an opposition leader in the wake of violent anti-government protests that left three people dead and nearly two dozen injured. It was the worst unrest since President Nicolas Maduro’s disputed election victory last year sparked clashes.
The Venezuelan government issued an arrest warrant for Leopoldo Lopez, a 42-year-old politician who is sought on various charges, including incitement to riot and terrorism, local media said. Lopez is considered one of the most vocal critics of the Maduro government. In recent weeks, he has been organizing demonstrations against the Maduro administration, which protesters accuse of poor governance as the crime rate worsens, human rights concerns rise and economic hardships mount. Venezuela’s economy is in crisis after annual inflation rose to a staggering 56 percent and Maduro’s critics want him to resign.
On Wednesday, after protests culminated in an outbreak of violence, Lopez accused the government of making him a scapegoat for state-led violence against protesters. “The government is playing the violence card, and not for the first time,” he told Reuters. “They’re blaming me without any proof … I’m innocent. I have a clear conscience because we called for peace,” he said, adding that the demonstrations would continue.
President Nicolas Maduro, who described the recent protests as a possible coup against his government, said that further protests would not be allowed. “They want to topple the government through violence,” Maduro said in a TV broadcast. “They have no ethics, no morals … We will not permit any more attacks.”
Almost a year after the death of the populist demagogue Hugo Chavez, political divisions in the nation he once united through his charisma threaten the stability of the whole country.