Jailed Venezuelan opposition leader goes on trial

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Associated Press

Posted on July 23, 2014 at 5:01 PM

Updated Thursday, Jul 24 at 12:01 AM

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A top leader of the anti-government protests that wracked Venezuela for months this spring is getting his day in court.

Opposition firebrand Leopoldo Lopez went on trial Wednesday charged with inciting violence at early demonstrations.

A defense lawyer, Juan Carlos Gutierrez, told The Associated Press after the hearing adjourned in the evening that Lopez defended the calling of demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government.

Lopez testified that his call to protest "was framed in the constitution that guarantees peaceful and non-violent protest," the attorney said.

Judge Susana Barreiros, who is presiding over the trial, said the next session would be held Aug. 6.

Lopez was arrested in February after he spoke at a rally that saw some activists clash with police after most protesters had gone home. The demonstration marked the start of three months of deadly street protests.

Lopez has remained in a jail cell while the protest movement has mostly died down and opposition leaders have begun to fight among themselves. But he has become a cause celebre for critics of Venezuela's socialist government.

Riot police and National Guard troops were out Wednesday blocking access to the court where Lopez's trial was scheduled.

If convicted, the Harvard University-educated Lopez could face years in prison.

In recent months, several opposition leaders have been targeted in Venezuela's courts, including former lawmaker Maria Corina Machado, who was also involved in the February protests and has been barred from leaving the country.

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