Venezuela op­po­si­tion lead­ers seized.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Weisen­stein

Two of Venezuela’s top op­po­si­tion lead­ers are taken from their homes in the mid­dle of the night.

Teams of heav­ily armed se­cu­rity agents seized two of Venezuela’s top op­po­si­tion lead­ers from their homes in the mid­dle of the night Tues­day in Cara­cas, drag­ging one into the street in his pa­ja­mas as Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s gov­ern­ment def ied U.S. sanc­tions and in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion of a plan to as­sume nearly un­lim­ited pow­ers.

Leopoldo Lopez and An­to­nio Ledezma were be­ing held at the sprawl­ing Ramo Verde mil­i­tary prison south of the cap­i­tal, ac­cused by the gov­ern­ment-al­lied supreme court of vi­o­lat­ing the terms of their house ar­rest by plot­ting to es­cape and re­leas­ing video state­ments crit­i­ciz­ing Maduro.

Both men’s al­lies de­nied the charges and vowed to con­tinue to try to push the rul­ing party from power. But they gave lit­tle in­di­ca­tion of how they planned to do that, and the cap­i­tal was un­usu­ally quiet af­ter months of some­times-vi­o­lent protests. While the United States and some Latin Amer­i­can al­lies con­demned the ar­rests, many other na­tions and in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions were silent or lim­ited them­selves to ex­pres­sions of con­cern.

Lopez’s sup­port­ers re­leased a video he made last week say­ing he ex­pected to be im­pris­oned again soon. It called on Venezue­lans to be firm in re­sist­ing Maduro.

“If you are look­ing at this video now, it’s pre­cisely be­cause that oc­curred, be­cause they came and they il­le­gally im­pris­oned me again un­justly, a pris­oner of con­scious­ness, a pris­oner for my ideas, a pris­oner for want­ing a bet­ter Venezuela,” said Lopez, 46.

He also said his wife, Lil­ian Tin­tori, is preg­nant, touch­ing her belly and say­ing he has “one more rea­son to fight for Venezuela.” He called the preg­nancy “the best news I’ve re­ceived in the last 3½ years” — the time he spent be­hind bars be­fore be­ing re­leased to house ar­rest last month. The cou­ple had been al­lowed some con­ju­gal vis­its.

Maduro ap­peared un­de­terred in his plans to seat a spe­cial as­sem­bly this week with pow­ers to re­write the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion and over­ride any other branch of the Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment. He has threat­ened to use those pow­ers to go af­ter his op­po­nents, and the ar­rests Tues­day ap­peared to show he was will­ing to pro­ceed with full force.

He ap­pears to have the full sup­port of the coun­try’s most im­por­tant in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing the mil­i­tary, and Venezue­lan De­fense Min­is­ter Gen. Vladimir Padrino Lopez ap­peared on tele­vi­sion Tues­day to af­firm his loy­alty to Maduro.

“We ask for re­spect for our democ­racy, for the way in which we have de­cided to take the road that we de­serve to take in peace, in democ­racy, with tol­er­ance, with­out vi­o­lence and with­out head­ing to­ward a coup,” Padrino said.

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

Ledezma, 62, was also de­tained in 2015 and has been un­der house ar­rest. Like Lopez, he also re­cently posted a video de­nounc­ing Sun­day’s vote.

Shortly af­ter mid­night, black-clad mem­bers of Venezuela’s state se­cu­rity team forced Ledezma from his east Cara­cas home in his blue pa­ja­mas, yank­ing him out into the night as a woman screamed for help.

“They’re tak­ing Ledezma!” the woman can be heard cry­ing on a cell­phone video re­leased by Ledezma’s al­lies. “It’s a dic­ta­tor­ship!”

Lopez’s wife posted se­cu­rity-cam­era video of him be­ing taken from their home and bun­dled into a wait­ing car.

“They’ve just taken Leopoldo from the house,” Tin­tori wrote on Twit­ter. “We don’t know where he is or where they’re tak­ing him.”

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 never had plans to flee.

Ten­sions es­ca­lated in Venezuela af­ter gov­ern­ment-al­lied elec­toral au­thor­i­ties said more than 8 mil­lion peo­ple voted Sun­day and the turnout was dis­puted by the op­po­si­tion and in­de­pen­dent an­a­lysts and con­demned by many na­tions in the re­gion and be­yond.

Ron­aldo Schemidt, AFP/Getty Im­ages

A jour­nal­ist stands out­side the house of Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion leader Leopoldo Lopez in Cara­cas on Tues­day, just hours af­ter he was taken from his home by the in­tel­li­gence ser­vice.

AFP

An im­age from cell­phone footage show­ing An­to­nio Ledezma be­ing taken from his home forcibly.

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