Using a slogan "The Exit," the U.S.-educated Lopez has for two
weeks helped organize sporadic demonstrations around the country to
denounce President Nicolas Maduro for failing to control inflation,
crime and product shortages.
The president accuses him of sowing violence to try to stage a coup
similar to the one 12 years ago that briefly ousted late socialist
leader Hugo Chavez, though there is little indication that the
protests could topple Maduro.
"There you have the face of fascism!" Maduro said in a speech to the
nation on Thursday night, showing photos and video of Lopez at
Wednesday's protest in the capital Caracas, some of the footage set
to doom-laden music.
"I tell these fugitives from justice: give yourselves up! ... They
should go behind bars," Maduro thundered, saying both the
intellectual authors of the violence and those who fired shots had
been identified by authorities.
Despite the government's strong words and a brief visit by police to
the headquarters of his Popular Will political party, Lopez, 42, was
not arrested on Thursday.
Colleagues said he spent the day with advisers at his home in the
same wealthy eastern district of Caracas where he was once mayor.
After Maduro's late-night speech, he took to Twitter and challenged
the president to have him arrested.
"Thanks for all your shows of solidarity. I'm fine. I'm still in
Venezuela and I'll stay in the streets. Strength!" Lopez tweeted.
"@NicolasMaduro: don't you have the guts to arrest me? Or are you
waiting for orders from Havana? I tell you, the truth is on our
Speaking to Reuters on Wednesday, shortly before a court upheld a
request from the Public Prosecutor's Office to order his detention,
the opposition leader blamed armed government supporters for firing
on peaceful protesters.
"The government is playing the violence card, and not for the first
time. They're blaming me without any proof," he said.
"NO MORE BLOOD"
While many Caracas residents stayed home on Thursday, there were
sporadic student protests around the city.
Some groups of demonstrators blocked streets and burned tires. Bands
of motorcyclists roamed the streets. And opposition supporters in
the wealthier suburbs east of the capital banged pots and bans from
windows in a traditional form of anti-government protest in some
parts of Latin America.
"We want solutions to problems, not endless confrontation and
violence," said student Manuel Armas, 19, outside the Alejandro
Humboldt University, where around 200 protesters waved banners
saying "No More Blood."
Scores of government supporters gathered outside the Public
Prosecutor's Office building that was vandalized on Wednesday,
chanting pro-Maduro slogans and denouncing "fascist violence."
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Coming almost a year after the death of Chavez, the unrest has been
the latest demonstration of the OPEC nation's polarization and the
deep mistrust between both political camps.
Maduro, a 51-year-old former bus driver and union activist who has
staked his presidency on maintaining Chavez's leftist legacy, said
further protests would not be allowed. Government supporters would
march in Caracas on Saturday, he said.
Wednesday's fatalities were Juan "Juancho" Montoya, a community
activist from a militantly pro-government neighborhood in the poor
west end of Caracas; Neyder Arellano, a pro-opposition student; and
Bassil Dacosta, who was identified by fellow protesters as a student
but by Maduro as a carpenter.
Some 66 people were injured and 70 arrested after Wednesday's
violence, officials said. Some protesters, many with their faces
covered, threw stones and lit fires in the streets.
Bolivia, Cuba and Argentina, three of Venezuela's fellow leftist
political allies in the region, sent messages of support to Maduro's
"Cuba condemns the coup intentions ... organized by fascist groups,"
the statement from Havana read.
The protests have exposed rifts within the opposition leadership,
with some favoring a more moderate approach and saying marches that
turn violent only play into the government's hands as it accuses
them of being "saboteurs."
Sporadic political protests have become common over the last decade,
but they usually fizzle out within days as residents grow tired of
blocked streets and the smell of burning tires.
Opposition moderates note that their biggest successes, such as
turning pro-Chavez strongholds into opposition territory, came from
leaders stepping away from theatrical street protests to focus on
daily issues for voters such as poor services, widespread corruption
and one of the world's worst murder rates.
(Additional reporting by Caracas bureau reporters, Javier Lopez in
Tachira, Daniel Ramos in La Paz, Daniel Trotta in Havana; editing by
Kieran Murray and Meredith Mazzilli)
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