Venezuela dis­si­dent ends strike

Op­po­si­tion leader breaks his month­long fast af­ter of­fi­cials sched­ule elec­tions.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Mery Mo­gol­lon and Chris Kraul Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dents Mo­gol­lon and Kraul re­ported from Cara­cas and Bo­gota, Colom­bia, re­spec­tively.

CARA­CAS, Venezuela — Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion leader Leopoldo Lopez ended his 30- day hunger strike Tues­day af­ter the gov­ern­ment sched­uled leg­isla­tive elec­tions for Dec. 6, thereby meet­ing his de­mand.

By set­ting a date for Na­tional Assem­bly elec­tions, Tibisay Lu­cena, head of the elec­toral coun­cil, on Mon­day ended weeks of spec­u­la­tion that the so­cial­ist gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro might call off the vote. Lu­cena said the vote was never in doubt.

Lopez’s wife, Lil­ian Tin­tori, on Tues­day read a state­ment from her hus­band in which he asked 104 other hunger strik­ers to end their fasts as well.

“We took on this protest not to die but so that all of us Venezue­lans can live with dig­nity.... I will con­tinue the strug­gle for a bet­ter Venezuela,” Lopez said in his note.

A for­mer mayor of a Cara­cas bor­ough, Lopez has been de­tained at a mil­i­tary prison near Cara­cas, the Venezue­lan cap­i­tal, since Fe­bru­ary 2014 on charges of in­cite­ment to vi­o­lence. He de­nies the charges and says they are po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

Lopez was ar­rested af­ter Maduro op­po­nents took to the streets last year to protest hy­per­in­fla­tion, high crime and scarci­ties of ba­sic food­stuffs. Vi­o­lent con­fronta­tions with author­i­ties across the coun­try left 43 dead and 850 in­jured.

Var­i­ous hu­man rights and in­ter­na­tional po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, in­clud­ing for­mer Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter Felipe Gon­za­lez, have de­manded that Lopez be freed, along with May­ors Daniel Ce­bal­los of San Cris­to­bal and An­to­nio Ledezma of Ca- racas, who are be­ing held on charges of re­bel­lion and con­spir­acy, re­spec­tively.

A car­a­van of buses car­ry­ing a group of Brazil­ian politi­cians who trav­eled to Venezuela last week in a show of sup­port for Lopez was blocked on an air­port road by pro- gov­ern­ment protesters. The Brazil­ian gov­ern­ment is­sued a for­mal protest over the in­ci­dent.

Or­di­nar­ily, the date for Na­tional Assem­bly vot­ing to elect deputies for f ive- year terms is de­ter­mined much ear­lier in the year to al­low for a longer cam­paign sea­son. Maduro’s United So­cial­ist Party of Venezuela and al­lies hold a 99- seat ma­jor­ity in the 165- mem­ber body.

Some op­po­si­tion f ig­ures were con­cerned that Maduro, whose pop­u­lar­ity has been bat­tered by a wors­en­ing econ­omy and food scarci­ties, might call off the elec- tions so as not to risk los­ing con­trol of the assem­bly.

In a speech at a Cara­cas au­di­to­rium Mon­day, Maduro in­di­cated that he would not take a loss of assem­bly con­trol sit­ting down.

“If the right wing takes con­trol of the assem­bly, se­ri­ous things will hap­pen. It will un­leash a process of street con­fronta­tions,” Maduro said. “I will be the f irst to go to the streets.”

Lopez and other op­po­si­tion mem­bers are also call­ing for in­ter­na­tional mon­i­tors for De­cem­ber elec­tion re­sults in light of dis­puted vot­ing in the 2013 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to re­place Hugo Chavez, who died in March of that year.

Fed­erico Parra AFP/ Getty I mages

LIL­IAN TIN­TORI, left, and Pa­tri­cia Ce­bal­los hold a news con­fer­ence in Cara­cas. Their hus­bands are among the Venezue­lan politi­cians held on var­i­ous charges.

Juan Bar­reto AFP/ Getty I mages

LEOPOLDO LOPEZ, Tin­tori’s hus­band, has asked oth­ers to end their hunger strike as well.

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