Venezuela marks 100 days of anti-government protests

Vastavam web:  Venezuela hit its 100th day of anti-government protests today, one day after its most prominent political prisoner, Leopoldo Lopez, vowed to continue his fight for freedom after being released from jail and placed under house arrest.Lopez’s surprise prison release triggered speculation over the prospect of negotiations between the opposition and Venezuela’s embattled leftist government of Nicolas Maduro, with a rising toll of death and destruction from three months of non-stop street protests.He pumped his fist in the air, unfurled the Venezuelan flag and told a crowd of supporters who had gathered outside: “Yes, we can!”

“I maintain my firm opposition to this regime,” Lopez said in a statement read by a leader of his party. “I reiterate my commitment to fight until conquering Venezuela’s freedom.” President Maduro, in televised remarks later Saturday, called for a message of “peace and rectification” from Lopez.Lopez, a 46-year-old Harvard-trained politician, was held for more than three-and-a-half years in a military prison outside Caracas for allegedly “inciting violence” by calling for anti-government protests.His release has been a key demand of Venezuela’s opposition and the international community, amid an intensifying political confrontation aimed at forcing the unpopular Maduro to hold early elections.Attorney General Luisa Ortega the most senior figure to defy Maduro accused the government of using Lopez to “improve its image.”

The Supreme Court said it had ordered Lopez’s move to house arrest for health reasons, calling it a “humanitarian measure.” In Madrid, Javier Cremades, Lopez’s Spanish lawyer, underscored that “all of Leopoldo Lopez’s civil and political rights must still be restored.” “What’s more, there are still 300 political prisoners in the Bolivarian jails,” he added. Foro Penal, an NGO, puts the number of political prisoners in Venezuela at 433. The government insists they are in jail for acts of violence. The government blamed Lopez for a months-long outbreak of anti-government protests in 2014 that left 43 people dead in clashes with security forces.He was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison on charges that his defense said were politically motivated and based on “manipulated” evidence.Since then the crisis has deepened, with more deaths and increasing levels of violence.