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Government hunting for Opposition leader

SHERRYLYN CLARKE, [email protected]

Government hunting for Opposition leader

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – Venezuelan security forces raided the homes of Leopoldo Lopez and his parents, looking to arrest the hard-line opposition leader who President Nicolas Maduro blames for three deaths at recent anti-government protests.
Lopez, who hasn’t been seen since a Wednesday night press conference, wasn’t at either of the residences in Caracas leafy eastern district when groups of national guardsmen and military intelligence officials arrived late at night. Aides said neighbours banged on pots and pans to protest what they consider an arbitrary detention order.
“Maduro, you’re a coward,” Lopez said in a message posted on Twitter after security forces left the premises early today. “You’re not going to force me or my family to bow down.”
The midnight manhunt capped another night of protests during which security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a group of some 500 students who have vowed to remain on the streets until all anti-government demonstrators are released. Authorities said 23 people were being treated for injuries, none of them life-threatening.
Earlier yesterday, Maduro said that authorities were searching for the 42-year-old Lopez, who he accuses of leading a US-backed, “fascist” plot to oust him from power just two months after his party’s candidates won mayoral elections by a landslide.
Lopez “ordered all these violent kids, who he trained, to destroy the prosecutor’s office and half of Caracas and then goes into hiding” Maduro told thousands of supporters at a rally yesterday.
“Turn yourself in coward.”
Lopez has vowed to press ahead with protests to force Maduro to give up power, blaming the socialist president for rampant crime, galloping 50 per cent inflation and worsening shortages of basic goods.
Still, he has called on Venezuelans to avoid violence and has said that he had nothing to do with the clashes with police and pro-government militias that took place Wednesday after the rally he helped organise against Maduro’s 10-month-old government had concluded peacefully.
U.S. officials have denied any plotting to oust Maduro, and Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday expressed concern over the rising tensions and violence surrounding the protests.