Leopoldo Lopez: Jailed Venezuela opposition leader announces hunger strike and calls for mass protests

Message was recorded on mobile phone in prison where he has been incarcerated for one year

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The Independent US

A jailed leader of Venezuela’s opposition movement has announced he has launched a hunger strike and called for anti-government protests next weekend.

In a video message that was apparently recorded in his cell on a mobile phone, Leopoldo Lopez accused the authorities of killing dozens of people during protests in 2014.

Reuters said the emergence of the video came a week after it was reported that fellow opposition leader Daniel Ceballos was being removed from the military prison outside Caracas where he was held with Mr Lopez and transferred to a public jail away from the capital.

Mr Lopez has been held in a military prison for more than a year on charges related to his role in leading last year's protests against the government of President Nicholas Maduro.

In the video, Lopez repeated his charge that the government was corrupt and incompetent.

Mr Lopez has been at logger-heads with the administrations of Mr Chavez and Mr Maduro and in the aftermath of a 2002 coup that briefly unseated Mr Chavez, he added his name to the so called Carmona Decree, a document that called for the dissolution of the parliament and the supreme court.

“One year and three months after our call for change, the situation has gotten even worse,” he said in his message. “More lines, more inflation, more scarcity, more crime, more corruption.”

Mr Maduro, who was elected to replace former president Hugo Chavez, has been struggling to confront rising inflation and a scarcity of essential items. Critics have claimed that his over reliance on oil exports has failed to create mature economy.

Mr Lopez called for a large peaceful demonstration next Saturday. He also announced he and Mr Ceballos were starting a hunger strike to demand the release of political prisoners and an end to what he termed government repression.

He also called for the government to set date for legislative elections that the administration has said it will hold in either November or December.

Venezuela’s ombudsman, Tarek William Saab, said on Twitter that he had met with Mr Lopez.

He said the opposition leader had been disciplined after a mobile phone was found in his cell in violation of prison rules, the third discovered in the cell in four months.