Mayor Antonio Ledezma arrested and dragged out of office 'like a dog' by police in Venezuela

The mayor has been accused of trying to bring down the government

A mayor in Venezuela was arrested in dramatic scenes yesterday after dozens of armed police broke into his office and forcibly removed him from the building.

Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma was physically escorted out of the premises by Sebin officers after being accused of sowing seeds of unrest in the country and allegedly plotting a coup to bring down the government.

A trail of supporters in the building followed Mr Ledezma, of the Fearless People’s Alliance, as he was being led away to the lifts. The government have also transferred nearly all of his powers to a newly-created body.

Opposition politician Ismael Garcia wrote on Twitter that he saw Mr Ledezma carried away and said “they pulled him out of his office like he was a dog.” The charges for his arrest, without a warrant, are yet to be known.

The mayor being escorted out of the building

Mr Ledezma, 59, is a long-time critic of the country’s socialist government and the president said he would be punished for being one of its most vocal opponents.

President Nicolas Maduro said in radio and television reports that Mr Ledezma, who is believed to be held at intelligence service police headquarters, will “be held accountable for all his crimes.”

The mayor had mocked the accusation made by Mr Maduro by saying the real threat to Venezuela – which is going through a severe economic crisis – was the corrupt government. He also went on a hunger strike in protest.

Venezuelans protested against his arrest by spontaneously banging pots from their windows and dozens were demonstrating last night outside the Sebin building.

Tensions have been running high in Venezuela with the one-year anniversary of the start of weeks of anti-government street protests that resulted in more than 40 deaths.

Police arrested several other mayors and former mayors during that unrest, including Leopoldo Lopez, who is considered by human rights groups as South America’s most high-profile political prisoner.

ledezma-venezuela-protest.jpg Allies of Mr Ledezma called for more protests today to demand his immediate release in a call that has been echoed by Human Rights Watch.

Last week, Mr Maduro named Mr Ledezma – who was elected as mayor in 2008 after beating a socialist candidate – among critics and Western powers he believes are enemies to his government.

The US state department called his accusations of coup-plotting “baseless and false”, and said they are to distract from Venezuela’s severe economic problems such as widespread shortages and inflation that reached 68% last year.