Venezuela faces chaos as opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez surrenders to authorities

Hugo Chavez’s successor as President accuses the US of fanning the flames of right-wing protest in order to remove him from office

Caracas

Venezuela is heading for further chaos as competing pro- and anti-government marches consumed the capital, Caracas, and opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, sought by the authorities on charges ranging from murder to terrorism, turned himself in for arrest.

The death toll from over a week of turmoil had risen to four. Opposition sources said a 17-year-old student protester was killed on Monday when an unidentified vehicle struck him during protests in the state of Sucre. Three others were killed last Wednesday when protests called by Lopez erupted in violence.

Before his arrest, Mr Lopez, a Harvard graduate and hard-line firebrand who heads the Popular Will Party, addressed thousands of supporters who had gathered in white T-shirts and some with makeshift gas-masks made of plastic bottles and tape, as they prepared to march on the Justice and Interior Ministry.  

"This is the first step in the construction of the road for change and it must, by necessity, be a peaceful process," he said. "If this imprisonment serves to wake up the people - to definitively wake up the majority of the Venezuelans that want change and want to build that change in peace and democracy, then this wretched jailing will be worth it."

After speaking, Mr Lopez, who had been flanked by other leaders of his party, left the platform and walked to a nearby barrier where he was bundled by police into a vehicle without incident. But by afternoon tens of thousands of supporters had jammed the capital's streets in response to his arrest, paralysing traffic and presenting a new challenge to the government. 

Meanwhile a huge crowd of Chavista pro-government protesters, some state oil workers bussed in from around the country, gathered in a central plaza of the city, dressed all in red in support of President Nicolas Maduro. Mr Lopez had earlier rerouted his march to avoid the two sides clashing on the streets. Addressing the rally, President Maduro, who this week ordered the ejection of three US consulate staff accusing them of fomenting unrest in the universities, said he wouldn't succumb to "psychological warfare" and vowed that Mr Lopez should pay for his "treasonous acts". He added: "Nobody has the right to subject families to street violence by small, armed and hooded groups that today, the 18th of February, wanted to overthrow the government. In Venezuela everyone has full political freedoms."

A student takes part in a protest against Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas (EPA) A student takes part in a protest against Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas (EPA)
The US State Department called Maduro's allegations against US diplomats "baseless and false" and urged Maduro to enter "meaningful dialogue" with the opposition. White House spokesman Jay Carney voiced concern that the government was using security forces and armed gangs to break up peaceful protests.

Among those on the streets was Bernardo Sarmiento, an import business owner who says his livelihood is threatened by government economic measures. "I want to see a liberated country," he said. "We are a strong people and we won't stand for a government that abuses its power. We aren't seeking a coup d'état today but we are seeking serious change".

In recent weeks, Mr Lopez, 42, has emerged as a hardline opponent to Mr Maduro openly calling for the removal of his socialist government. His push, mostly through mobilising a series of anti-government protests across the country, has put him at odds with the more moderate opposition wing which has been led by the 2012 presidential opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, a state governor.

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro (Reuters) Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro (Reuters)
Mr Lopez, a distant descendant of Simon Bolivar, who led the Latin American independence struggle against Spain, has stirred support, mostly from students, accusing Mr Maduro of economic mismanagement amid growing shortages of basic goods and an inflation rate of about 56 per cent. Currency controls are increasingly impeding overseas travel for middle-class Venezuelans and crime rates continue to soar. 

Mr Maduro, a former bus driver who won election to succeed Hugo Chavez after he died last year, insists Mr Lopez is behind a "right-wing, fascist" plot to overthrow him.  He escalated his anti-American rhetoric, apparently after receiving a call from a US State Department official asking him to release detainees and begin talks with the opposition, allegedly adding that  there would be "consequences" if he didn't.

"I do not accept threats from anyone in this world," Mr Maduro said on Sunday, adding that he had sent a reply to the White House. "No force will stop us Bolivarians from making justice. In Venezuela, we are ready to go to the bitter end to defend our independence and peace," said the President. 

"We are facing the activation of a political crisis intended to break the society and move the masses that follow the right wing."

Thousands of students lie on the ground during a protest in front of the Venezuelan Judiciary building in Caracas (Getty) Thousands of students lie on the ground during a protest in front of the Venezuelan Judiciary building in Caracas (Getty)
The Lopez supporters were met by thick lines of anti-riot police as they began to march down Avenue Francisco de Miranda, named after another of the first liberators of the country.  Helicopters hovered above and along the street, and every ledge and window was crammed with onlookers watching the protest.

‘The government issued its arrest warrant for Mr Lopez at the end of last week, charging him with murder stemming from the violence that broke out after last Wednesday's protest marches.  Some observers meanwhile argue that Washington’s antipathy to the Maduro government is barely disguised.

"Of course, we all know who the US government supports in Venezuela," Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, said. "They don't really try to hide it: there's $5m in the 2014 US federal budget for funding opposition activities inside Venezuela, and this is almost certainly the tip of the iceberg - adding to the hundreds of millions of dollars of overt support over the past 15 years."

The surrender of Mr Lopez, which supporters hope will help focus world attention on the conduct of the Maduro government, may only worsen tensions, particularly if he remains in custody for any length of time.

"I haven't committed any crime," Mr Lopez said in a video released to his supporters before giving himself up. "If there is a decision to legally throw me in jail, I'll submit myself to this persecution."

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
i100'Geography can be tough'
Sport
Louis van Gaal looks dejected after Manchester United's 4-0 defeat by MK Dons on Tuesday night
sport
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Assessor

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Sustainability Assessor...

Year 5 Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to wo...

Cover Supervisor for School in Bradford

£50 - £70 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: School Cla...

Supply Teacher - Chelmsford

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We urgently require Primar...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?