Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez gets into a
National Guard armoured vehicle in Caracas after giving a
speech to an opposition rally. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of
Venezuela's capital after troops arrested opposition leader
Leopoldo Lopez on charges of fomenting unrest against the
government and violence that has killed at least four people.
White-clad demonstrators blocked traffic in the streets of
Caracas as a security vehicle holding the 42-year-old
Harvard-educated economist crawled at a snail's pace after he
surrendered to security forces during an opposition rally.
Lopez's arrest could galvanize the opposition and spur more
street demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro,
though there is no immediate sign the protests will topple
the socialist leader.
"I have nothing to hide," Lopez told supporters before his
arrest, standing next to a statue above the crowd.
Minutes later, he surrendered to army officers, pumping his
fist and then stepping into the military vehicle with a
Venezuelan flag in one hand and a white flower in the other.
"I present myself to an unjust judiciary ... May my jailing
serve to wake up a people," he added in the speech.
Lopez, wanted on charges including murder and 'terrorism',
says he is being made a scapegoat by a dictatorial
From inside the military vehicle, he called on demonstrators
to clear the way so authorities could take him into
detention. As protesters chanted "Leopoldo, the people are
with you," he was transferred to a black van and driven away.
His supporters followed for several kilometers (miles) until
he was taken into a military base, with police shutting off
access to numerous avenues on the way to control the crowd.
Demonstrators remained congregated on the outskirts of the La
Carlota air base in eastern Caracas, and elsewhere.
Information Minister Delcy Rodriguez said via Twitter that a
Caracas textile worker was shot dead on Tuesday by "violent
groups" seeking to carry out a coup planned by the United
States. Authorities did not respond to requests for
In the coastal town of Carupano in eastern Venezuela,
residents said a 17-year-old student died after being struck
by a car during a demonstration against the socialist
That added to three fatal shootings in Caracas last
Student-led protests have multiplied this month across the
nation of 29 million people in the biggest challenge to
Maduro since his election last year following socialist
leader Hugo Chavez's death.
The demonstrators are demanding Maduro's resignation and
expressing a litany of complaints from inflation and violent
crime to corruption and product shortages.
"The country's in an unsustainable state," said filmmaker
Jose Sahagun, 47, wearing white like many among the thousands
of demonstrators with Lopez in east Caracas.
"The government's mask has fallen off. This man (Maduro) has
held power for 10 months and the deterioration has been
Protest numbers had been relatively small but that changed on
Tuesday with Lopez supporters swarming into the streets.
There has been no evidence that Venezuela's military might
turn against Maduro, the 51-year-old successor to Chavez.
Thousands of oil workers and Maduro supporters, clad in the
red of the ruling Socialist Party, held their own
demonstration in Caracas on Tuesday, music blaring in a party
"Comrade President Nicolas Maduro can count on the working
class," said oil union leader Wills Rangel.
In a nation split largely down the middle on political lines,
'Chavistas' have stayed loyal to Maduro despite unflattering
comparisons with his famously charismatic predecessor. Many
Venezuelans fear the loss of popular, oil-funded welfare
programs should the socialist lose power.
"Chavez lives, the fight goes on!" Maduro backers chanted.
An opposition legislator and anti-government activists
alleged that a government supporter had hit the dead student
in Carupano, Jose Ernesto Mendez, but there was no
independent confirmation or response from authorities to the
Residents said three other demonstrators were injured in the
melee in Carupano, in Sucre state. One was gravely hurt.
A government statement said a man had been arrested for
running over a 17-year-old and injuring three others.
Earlier in Caracas, security forces in anti-riot gear
patrolled with water cannons as police kept opposition
supporters from leaving the city's affluent eastern district.
Many residents stayed home, fearing fresh trouble after the
daily clashes that have erupted since last Wednesday's
fatalities in the capital. Schools were mostly closed.
Maduro's government accuses opponents backed by Washington of
seeking to promote a coup against him, similar to a botched
attempt against Chavez in 2002 when he was ousted for 36
The burly former bus driver and union activist this week
expelled three U.S. diplomats accused of recruiting students
for the protests. Washington said that was "baseless and
Prices of Venezuela's highly traded global bonds , which
fluctuate sharply on political tension, are near 18-month
Complaints about acts of violence by both sides have piled up
over six consecutive days of confrontations between police
and demonstrators. Only 13 students were reported still being
held after nearly 100 arrests in the past week.
Opposition activists say some of those detained have been
tortured, but Maduro says police have been restrained in the
face of provocation and attacks.
He has, however, publicly criticized the Sebin national
intelligence service for having agents in the street and
replaced its head on Tuesday.