Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

Venezuelan opposition leader warns of 'more military movements'

Leopoldo Lopez says failed uprising launched on Tuesday will eventually lead to President Nicolas Maduro's fall

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez sent a defiant message to President Nicolas Maduro from his refuge in the Spanish ambassador's residence in Caracas after the country's top court ordered his arrest on Thursday.

Mr Lopez said Tuesday's opposition attempt to incite a military uprising against Mr Maduro's government, which seemed to have fizzled out by Wednesday, was "part of a process".

"It's a crack that will become a bigger crack... that will end up breaking the dam," the 48-year-old told reporters outside the ambassador's residence.

Mr Lopez, who was imprisoned in 2014 and transferred to house arrest three years later, made a sensational public appearance alongside fellow opposition leader Juan Guaido and a group of rebel military personnel outside a Caracas air base on Tuesday.

Mr Guaido – the speaker of the National Assembly legislature, who is recognised as Venezuela's interim president by more than 50 countries – tried to coax those inside the base to join the military rebellion, a move that sparked two days of clashes between security forces and opposition protesters that left four people dead.

Later on Tuesday, Mr Lopez sought refuge in the Chilean embassy with his wife and daughter before moving to the Spanish ambassador's residence.

He claimed to have been freed from house arrest by rebel soldiers whose actions he said would bring down the Maduro "dictatorship".

The Supreme Court accused Mr Lopez of "flagrantly" violating the terms of his house arrest.

Madrid said it would not hand over Mr Lopez to Venezuelan authorities nor ask him to leave.

"The crack has started," said Mr Lopez, adding that Tuesday's rebel soldiers "realise that they're not alone".

"We had prepared for this. It wasn't improvised ... there will be more military movements."

He echoed Mr Guaido's accusation that Mr Maduro was "fraudulently" re-elected last year, describing his presidency as a "usurpation".

Mr Guaido called on his supporters to gather for peaceful demonstrations at military bases on Saturday in a bid to get soldiers to "support the constitution".

The military leadership has reiterated its support for the government after the failed uprising, and Mr Maduro is standing his ground.

"Yes, we are in combat – keep morale high in this fight to disarm any traitor, any coup plotter," he said at a televised event on Thursday with the military high command, at which he was surrounded by soldiers.

"No one can be afraid – it is the hour to defend our right to peace," he said at the ceremony, which was attended by 4,500 military personnel, according to the government.

Defence Minister General Vladimir Padrino said: "We've come to ratify our loyalty ... to the supreme commander of the armed forces, who is our only president, President Nicolas Maduro."

Mr Lopez was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2014 after he was accused of having incited violent protests against Mr Maduro which left 43 people dead.

At the time, he was a leading opposition figure and the founder of the Popular Will party, which counted Mr Guaido among its members.

The Harvard-trained politician comes from a prominent family – some of his ancestors held top government positions – but has been branded as "far right" and a "coup plotter" by Mr Maduro, a socialist.

Popular Will describes itself as a progressive centre-left movement.

Mr Lopez's wife Lilian Tintori claimed on Twitter on Wednesday that their house had been robbed and ransacked while they were away.

Updated: May 3, 2019 01:25 PM

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