Venezuela marks 100 days of protest

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Venezuela hit its 100th day of anti-gov­ern­ment protests yes­ter­day, one day after its most prom­i­nent po­lit­i­cal prisoner, Leopoldo Lopez, vowed to con­tinue his fight for free­dom after be­ing re­leased from jail and placed un­der house ar­rest. Lopez’s sur­prise prison re­lease trig­gered spec­u­la­tion over the prospect of ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the op­po­si­tion and Venezuela’s em­bat­tled left­ist gov­ern­ment of Ni­co­las Maduro, with a ris­ing toll of death and de­struc­tion from three months of non-stop street protests.

Lopez, leader of the Vol­un­tad Pop­u­lar (Pop­u­lar Will) party and a sym­bol of re­sis­tance to the Maduro gov­ern­ment, emerged hours after his re­lease from prison look­ing fit and happy. He pumped his fist in the air, un­furled the Venezue­lan flag and told a crowd of sup­port­ers who had gath­ered out­side: “Yes, we can!” “I main­tain my firm op­po­si­tion to this regime,” Lopez said in a state­ment read by a leader of his party. “I re­it­er­ate my com­mit­ment to fight un­til con­quer­ing Venezuela’s free­dom.”

Pres­i­dent Maduro, in tele­vised re­marks later Satur­day, called for a mes­sage of “peace and rec­ti­fi­ca­tion” from Lopez. Maduro said he hoped the state­ment from Lopez could pro­vide the ba­sis for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion “be­cause the na­tion wants peace.” Lopez, a 46-year-old Har­vard-trained politi­cian, was held for more than three-and-a-half years in a mil­i­tary prison out­side Caracas for al­legedly “in­cit­ing vi­o­lence” by calling for anti-gov­ern­ment protests.

His re­lease has been a key demand of Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, amid an in­ten­si­fy­ing po­lit­i­cal con­fronta­tion aimed at forc­ing the un­pop­u­lar Maduro to hold early elec­tions. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Luisa Ortega-the most se­nior fig­ure to defy Maduro-ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of us­ing Lopez to “im­prove its im­age.” “Peo­ple de­prived of lib­erty can­not be used as if they were hostages that can be ob­jects of ne­go­ti­a­tion,” she told the Chilean daily news­pa­per La Tercera.

At least 91 peo­ple have died since April 1 in clashes be­tween protesters and se­cu­rity forces over moves by the courts and the gov­ern­ment to strip the Na­tional As­sem­bly of power, de­lay elec­tions and re­write the con­sti­tu­tion. The Supreme Court said it had or­dered Lopez’s move to house ar­rest for health rea­sons, calling it a “hu­man­i­tar­ian mea­sure.” In Madrid, Javier Cre­mades, Lopez’s Span­ish lawyer, un­der­scored that “all of Leopoldo Lopez’s civil and po­lit­i­cal rights must still be re­stored.”

“What’s more, there are still 300 po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers in the Bo­li­var­ian jails,” he added. Foro Pe­nal, an NGO, puts the num­ber of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers in Venezuela at 433. The gov­ern­ment in­sists they are in jail for acts of vi­o­lence. The US State De­part­ment called the re­lease of Lopez “a sig­nif­i­cant step in the right di­rec­tion”-but said many more such steps are needed.

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