Thursday, February 19, 2015

Venezuela Mayor Antonio Ledezma Arrested


CARACAS, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Venezuelan intelligence agents on Thursday arrested opposition leader and Caracas metropolitan mayor Antonio Ledezma, witnesses said, after accusations he was involved in a coup attempt against President Nicolas Maduro.
The agents took him from his office in the banking district of Caracas, without giving a reason, according to witnesses including an opposition legislator and Ledezma's wife.
"I just saw how they took Ledezma out of his office as if he were a dog," wrote opposition legislator Ismael Garcia via Twitter. "They broke down the doors without an arrest warrant."
The arrest adds to tensions one year after the start of three months of opposition demonstrations demanding the resignation of Maduro, whose popularity rating has tumbled amid a recession and chronic product shortages.
Violence around last year's protests left 43 people dead.
The government in recent days cited an opposition document signed by Ledezma, a veteran opposition leader, that called for a "national transition" as evidence he was involved in a coup attempt.
Socialist Party official Diosdado Cabello last week said Ledezma plotted in 2014 to kill jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez in order to stir up unrest that opposition leaders would use to launch a coup.
Maduro frequently denounces alleged coup plots by opposition leaders, usually without presenting concrete evidence. His predecessor, Hugo Chavez, survived a brief coup in 2002 amid protests supported by Ledezma among other opposition leaders.
The vice president's office, which oversees Sebin, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Ledezma.
Maduro was speaking on live TV on Thursday evening but did not mention the issue.
Colombian news station NTN24 showed a video of what it called the detention of Ledezma. The images showed nearly a dozen troops clad in flak jackets and camouflage uniforms ushering him toward an elevator.
Reuters could not independently confirm the video.
Venezuela has jailed a number of opposition leaders during the last year including Lopez, who helped spearhead last year's opposition protests, and Daniel Ceballos, former mayor of the border city of San Cristobal.
Supporters call them political prisoners who are being persecuted for exercising their right to protest.
Maduro's sympathizers call them saboteurs seeking to destabilize the government with U.S. help.
Lopez's supporters said he was being forcibly moved from the Ramo Verde prison outside Caracas. He was put in a punishment cell in recent days, they say, following a media interview he gave from a phone inside. (Additional reporting by Diego Ore; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Toni Reinhold and Ken Wills)

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