Caracas (AFP) – Masked intelligence service agents arrested the mayor of Caracas on Thursday, his wife and opposition figures said, in what appears to be the latest crackdown on criticism of the socialist government.
Antonio Ledezma’s arrest comes nearly a year to the day of that of Leopoldo Lopez, an opposition leader detained amid fierce protests against President Nicolas Maduro.
The 59-year-old Ledezma tweeted in the afternoon that government police were on the way to his office to arrest him. Agents, who arrived on armoured vehicles, shot in the air to disperse a crowd that gathered nearby.
His wife, Mitzy Capriles, took to his Twitter account to report his detention shortly after, and blamed Maduro.
“They took Antonio Ledezma away… They didn’t give him time to say anything,” she wrote.
Ledezma is a veteran opposition figure who was elected in 2009 as mayor and reelected in 2013, although the Maduro government has moved to restrict his powers.
Maduro faces withering criticism and simmering unrest in Venezuela as the economy continues to decline and basic supplies are in shortage. Crime is spiraling.
Maduro calls Ledezma “The Vampire” and has accused him of being behind last year’s anti-government protests that left 43 dead.
Authorities have not issued a statement about his detention.
About 300 people gathered Wednesday to demand the release of Lopez, one year after he was jailed for allegedly inciting the mass protests that roiled the government.
Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori, led the rally in the same Caracas plaza where the Harvard-educated politician surrendered to security forces on February 18, 2014 in the midst of a demonstration.
Maduro’s popularity has plummeted to 20 per cent over the past year, as the oil-rich country’s many woes — dire shortages, a shrinking economy, and high crime — have grown worse.
Like his predecessor Hugo Chavez, Maduro frequently announces supposed coup attempts and blames right-wing forces for problems, as well as the United States and Colombia.
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