LIVE VIDEO: Live Newscast RIGHT NOW    Watch
 

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez due to appear in court after surrendering

8:37 AM, Feb 19, 2014   |    comments
  • Share
  • Print
  • - A A A +

 


 


(CNN) -- Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez is set to appear in court Wednesday, a day after he turned himself in to authorities amid anti-government demonstrations in the country.

Charges against him include murder, terrorism and arson in connection with the protests, according to his party, Popular Will.

Lopez denies the accusations, the party said in a statement calling for witnesses of the protests to send their own accounts of what happened to be used in his defense.

"The last thing he said to me was for me to not forget what he is going through," his wife, Lilian Tintori de Lopez said in an interview with CNN en Español. "Not forget that he is arrested for things that he has asked for: the liberation of political prisoners, liberation of students, no more oppression, no more violence."

She called on his supporters to join her at the justice building for his appearance Wednesday morning.

No signs of let up

Venezuelan protesters are demanding better security, an end to scarcities and protected freedom of speech.

President Nicolas Maduro and his supporters have also rallied, blaming the opposition for causing the very problems it protests.

Clashes during days of demonstrations have already left three anti-government protesters and one government supporter dead. And the simmering tensions show no signs of letting up.

The confrontation took a turn Tuesday, when Lopez, accused by the government over the recent violence, marched with a crowd of thousands of protesters before surrendering to national guard troops.

"The options I had were leave the country, and I will never leave Venezuela!" Lopez told the massive crowd. "The other option was to remain in hiding, but that option could have left doubt among some, including some who are here, and we don't have anything to hide."

Hours later at a rally with throngs of supporters, Maduro said the head of Venezuela's National Assembly had helped negotiate Lopez's surrender and was taking him to a prison outside Caracas.

Maduro: Opposition leaders 'fascists'

Maduro described opposition leaders as right-wing fascists who plant seeds of fear and violence. He claimed they have U.S. backing and repeatedly tried to assassinate him and overthrow his democratically elected government.

And he compared the opposition to an illness plaguing the South American country.

"The only way to fight fascism in a society is like when you have a very bad infection ... you need to take penicillin, or rather the strongest antibiotic, and undergo treatment," he said. "Fascism is an infection in Venezuela and in the world. And the only treatment that exists is justice."

Lopez: 'The people woke up'

Footage from Tuesday's demonstration shows Lopez being led by national guard troops to a military vehicle, waving to the crowd as he is placed inside and even continuing to speak on a megaphone until the door is closed.

A message on Lopez's Twitter account Tuesday night said he was on the way to a military prison, where party officials said he would be held at least until a court appearance scheduled for Wednesday. The post included a link to an apparently pre-recorded video message, showing the opposition leader seated on a couch next to his wife, calling on Venezuelans to keep pushing for change.

"If you are watching this video, it is because the government has carried out one more abuse, full of lies, of falsehoods, of twisting facts and trying to manipulate the reality that we Venezuelans are living," he said. "I want to tell all Venezuelans that I do not regret what we have done up to this moment, in convoking the protests ... The people came out. The people woke up."

'Yankee, go home'

Major social and economic problems in Venezuela have fueled the protests. But as the demonstrations gained steam, officials have pointed fingers at other factors, accusing the United States of plotting to destabilize the government.

On Monday, Venezuela gave three U.S. diplomats 48 hours to leave the country, accusing them of conspiring to bring down the government. At Tuesday's rally, Maduro shouted, "Yankee, go home" from the stage, drawing cheers from the crowd.

17-year-old dies during Venezuelan protests

The opposition has been defeated over and over again at the polls, and despite this decision by the people, it continues to call for marches and protests, Julio Rafael Chavez, a ruling party lawmaker, told CNN en Español on Tuesday.

"The peace-loving Venezuelans feel very, very worried by the irrational, fascist-leaning attitude and actions of a sector of the Venezuelan opposition," he said.

This isn't the first time that bitter protests and counter-protests by supporters and opponents of the government have threatened political stability in Venezuela over the past decade.

Many of Maduro's claims -- of U.S. intervention, of assassination plots -- were also lobbed by the late President Hugo Chavez. Chavez was briefly ousted in a coup in 2002, but otherwise outlasted the protests and repeatedly won re-election and ruled for 14 years until his death last year after a long battle with cancer.

Venezuela: Expelled U.S. diplomats have 48 hours to leave

The U.S. State Department has repeatedly denied Venezuela's accusations. Asked whether the United States backs Lopez, Sen. John McCain told CNN on Tuesday that his country "backs the people's right to express their will, to object to corruption, the repression of the media and the arrest of political dissidents."

'The protests will continue'

The current protests are the biggest that the Maduro government has faced in its 11 months in power.

The latest death came Monday, when a 17-year-old was hit by a truck and killed at a protest in the northeastern city of Carupano, a government official said.

Lopez's party has accused the government of being responsible for violence during the protests.

At Tuesday's rally, Maduro stressed that the socialist revolution he now leads is peaceful and democratic.

"What I want is peace, dialogue, understanding, coexistence," Maduro said. "It is what I want and what I am doing."

But another opposition leader said that the government's actions paint a different picture.

"The latest actions we've seen from the government indicate that far from fomenting a climate of peace, (it) is trying to fortify the climate of confrontation and violence that the world has seen in images," former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles told CNN en Español.

Capriles has backed away from calling for massive protests, saying they are ineffective and play into the government's narrative, but he said Lopez has his support.

"The protest will continue as long as the government gives no sign of resolving the problems of the Venezuelans," Capriles said.

At least seven people were injured when gunfire erupted during a protest Tuesday in the northern city of Valencia on Tuesday, CNN affiliate Globovision reported. One of them, according to two officials who did not wish to be identified, was a local beauty queen.

CNN equipment taken

A CNN crew covering the anti-government demonstrations had their equipment taken away at gunpoint Tuesday -- but the journalists were unharmed.

The incident took place in a neighborhood in Caracas where the CNN crew was preparing to film and the National Guard was present.

About 20 men on motorbikes rode toward a crowd of anti-government protesters when they noticed the crew and approached them, brandishing several guns.

They demanded that the crew hand over their equipment, including a camera and broadcasting gear.

Clashes between protesters, police

Journalist Osmary Hernandez in Caracas and CNN's Miguel Escalona, Marilia Brocchetto, Mayra Cuevas and Holly Yan contributed to this report.

Most Watched Videos