Venezuela opposition rallies for jailed members

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Venezuela opposition rallies for jailed members

Caracas, Apr 29 (AFP) Thousands of opponents of Venezuela’s leftist government marched to jails demanding the release of opposition leaders they say are political prisoners in the country’s deadly crisis.

It was the latest in a month of demonstrations that have left 28 people dead in clashes between riot police and anti- government protesters, according to prosecutors.

A crowd yelling “Freedom!” rallied near the Ramo Verde prison yesterday on the outskirts of Caracas.

That is where the most prominent of the prisoners, Popular Will party leader Leopoldo Lopez, is being held.

It was the latest in a month of volatile and deadly demonstrations.

The center-right-led opposition is demanding elections to remove President Nicolas Maduro. It blames him for an economic crisis that has caused shortages of food, medicine and other basics.

Lopez was arrested in 2014 and later sentenced to 14 years on charges of inciting violence during deadly riots.

A lead prosecutor in the case later alleged irregularities in his conviction.

Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori, has become one of the international faces of Venezuela’s political crisis.

She has traveled to meet with foreign officials to raise awareness of her husband’s fate.

“They did not let us go to see Leopoldo… We have gone a month without seeing or hearing him,” she told reporters near the prison.

“They say he is being held in isolation as a sanction.

Freedom for all political prisoners,” Tintori said.

Groups of opposition supporters walked more than 14 kilometers (nearly nine miles) to the prison from various parts of Caracas.

Others gathered near an intelligence service detention center in Caracas. Similar marches were called in other cities.

On the road to Ramo Verde, military police mounted a barrier of trucks and metal fencing.

Attempts by protesters to march towards other sensitive state institutions have erupted into deadly violence over recent days.

The United States, European lawmakers and other international authorities have urged Maduro’s government to free people they called political prisoners.

The opposition says there are 170 such detainees.

The government denies they are locked up for political reasons, insisting they were jailed for violent crimes or conspiracy.

A further 1,000 people have been arrested since the latest wave of violence erupted on April 1, authorities say.

Protesters took to the streets in anger at attempts by the courts to strengthen Maduro’s grip on power.

Maduro accuses Washington of leading a plot to overthrow him and says the economic crisis is a US-backed capitalist conspiracy.

On Wednesday he launched steps to pull Venezuela out of the Organization of American States, a key diplomatic grouping, in anger at pressure over the crisis.

“To the imperialists I say: enough,” he said in a speech late Thursday. “Don’t meddle in Venezuela.” He has refused to hold a general election before the next scheduled one due in late 2018.

“I want to live in a democracy again,” said one demonstrator, retired teacher Reina Romero, 71, told AFP yesterday. (AFP)

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.