Arrest of Caracas Mayor Sign of Broader Venezuela Crackdown

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Arrest of Caracas Mayor Sign of Broader Venezuela Crackdown
CARACAS, Venezuela — Feb 20, 2015, 9:48 PM ET
By HANNAH DREIER and JOSHUA GOODMAN Associated Press

Opponents of President Nicolas Maduro poured into the streets Friday to condemn the surprise arrest of Caracas’ mayor for allegedly participating in a U.S.-backed plot to overthrow his government.

The protests came a day after an armed commando unit dressed in camouflage raided Mayor Antonio Ledezma’s office and hauled him away. The detention, recorded by security cameras, set off a wave of spontaneous demonstrations in middle-class neighborhoods loyal to the opposition and on Friday a few hundred supporters gathered peacefully to denounce Ledezma’s “kidnapping.”

The mayor was charged with conspiracy, a crime punishable by 8 to 16 years in jail, and sent Friday night to a military prison outside Caracas where other prominent government foes are being held.

The arrest of the 59-year-old mayor, one of Maduro’s fiercest critics, comes as the government struggles to avert a crisis years in the making but made worse by a recent tumble in oil prices. The president’s approval rating was hovering around 22 percent in January, the lowest in 16 years of socialist rule, as Venezuelans are forced to cope with widespread shortages, runaway inflation and a plunge in the currency that shows little sign of abating.  [Read more]

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