Trump or­ders re­lease of Maduro ri­vals

Two seized by fed­eral agents from their homes

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY DAVE BOYER This ar­ti­cle was based in part on wire-ser­vice re­ports from Venezuela.

Pres­i­dent Trump warned Venezuela Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro on Tues­day night to re­lease two op­po­si­tion lead­ers seized by masked gov­ern­ment agents and de­nounced his regime as a “dic­ta­tor­ship.”

“The United States con­demns the ac­tions of the Maduro dic­ta­tor­ship,” Mr. Trump said in a state­ment re­leased hours af­ter the Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment took op­po­si­tion fig­ures Leopoldo Lopez and An­to­nio Ledezma into cus­tody early Tues­day.

“Mr. Lopez and Mr. Ledezma are po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers be­ing held il­le­gally by the regime,” Mr. Trump said, adding that Wash­ing­ton would hold Mr. Maduro “per­son­ally re­spon­si­ble for the health and safety of Mr. Lopez, Mr. Ledezma, and any oth­ers seized.”

“We re­it­er­ate our call for the im­me­di­ate and un­con­di­tional re­lease of all po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers,” Mr. Trump said.

Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin also used the “D-word,” call­ing Mr. Maduro a “dic­ta­tor who dis­re­gards the will of the Venezue­lan peo­ple.”

Mr. Lopez and Mr. Ledezma were be­ing held at the 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 Mr. Maduro.

The court, which is con­trolled by Maduro al­lies, also said it had re­ceived “re­ports from of­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence sources” that the two men had been plan­ning to flee.

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.

In Caracas, Judges Beatriz Ruiz and Jose Fer­nando Nunez, who were ap­pointed by Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion-con­trolled Na­tional Assem­bly, took refuge in the res­i­dence of the Chilean am­bas­sador.

Chilean For­eign Min­is­ter Her­aldo Munoz tweeted Tues­day that Judges Ruiz and Nunez ar­rived “in search of pro­tec­tion” and said they have been of­fered asy­lum if they want it.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced Mon­day that it was is­su­ing sanc­tions against Mr. Maduro, freezing any U.S. assets he owns, among other mea­sures, in re­sponse to hu­man-rights abuses and anti-demo­cratic mea­sures.

The steps came af­ter the left­ist gov­ern­ment held a dis­puted elec­tion to cre­ate a new assem­bly with the power to change its con­sti­tu­tion and give the rul­ing party nearly un­lim­ited power.

Mr. Lopez’s sup­port­ers re­leased a video he taped last week say­ing he ex­pected to be im­pris­oned again soon, and call­ing on Venezue­lans to be firm in re­sist­ing Mr. 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,” the 46-year-old Mr. Lopez said.

Mr. Maduro had warned that he would con­duct a crackdown on po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents and 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 ap­pears to have the full sup­port of the coun­try’s most im­por­tant in­sti­tu­tions.

Venezuela’s pow­er­ful vice pres­i­dent, whom the U.S. has ac­cused of drug traf­fick­ing, said the newly elected con­stituent assem­bly would be con­ven­ing “within hours.”

In re­marks aired on Venezuela’s state tele­vi­sion, Tareck El Ais­sami said that re­sults from Sun­day’s elec­tion have been re­viewed and the 545 assem­bly mem­bers would soon take the reins of the na­tion’s gov­ern­ment. He didn’t give a spe­cific time.

Venezuela’s de­fense min­is­ter, Gen. Vladimir Padrino Lopez, also 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,” Gen. Padrino said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion lead­ers Leopoldo Lopez and An­to­nio Ledezma were taken by au­thor­i­ties from their homes on Tues­day. “Mr. Lopez and Mr. Ledezma are po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers be­ing held il­le­gally by the regime,” Pres­i­dent Trump said, con­demn­ing the action.

Lopez

Ledezma

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