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Jailed Venezuelan opposition leader returns to house arrest

The wife of opposition leader Antonio Ledezma says he has been brought home after spending three days in prison. Venezuela is bracing for major protests as the government prepares to install a new all-powerful assembly.

Antonio Ledezma

Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma appears at the window of his residence on July 16, 2017

Venezuelan intelligence agents returned prominent opposition leader Antonio Ledezma to his home, where he is serving house arrest, Ledezma's wife said on Twitter early Friday.

"I am letting the country know that several minutes ago, Antonio was unexpectedly returned by the Sebin (intelligence agency) to our home," Mitzy Capriles wrote.

"We thank the people of Venezuela and the international community for their concern and solidarity."

Security forces seized Ledezma, who is mayor of the capital, Caracas, together with fellow opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez before dawn Tuesday and took them to a military prison. It was not immediately clear whether Lopez would also be returned to house arrest.

The two men had been jailed after being accused of violating the terms of their house arrest and seeking to destabilize the government of President Nicolas Maduro. Both had called for protests against the creation of a new all-powerful assembly - scheduled to begin meeting on Friday - that will supersede parliament and rewrite the constitution.

Watch video 04:28

Venezuela arrests: Antonietta Ledezma speaks with DW

International condemnation

Governments around the world have condemned the arrests as well as the assembly, describing its formation as an assault on basic freedoms. Washington has said it won't recognize the body, calling it "the illegitimate product of a flawed process designed by the Maduro dictatorship to further its assault on democracy."

On Friday, the Vatican urged Maduro to "avoid or suspend" the assembly and warned that it would generate "a climate of tension and confrontation" rather than "favor reconciliation and peace."

In a statement, the Holy See said it held "deep worry for the radicalization and worsening" of Venezuela's political crisis and for the rising toll of casualties and prisoners from anti-government clashes.

People fighting in Venezuela

Violent clashes in Venezuela have claimed at least 120 lives

More than 120 people have died in four months of protests. Opposition leaders called for Venezuelans to take to the streets again on Friday to show they won't tolerate the new assembly's scheduled installation.

Maduro has defended the body, saying it will help the nation weather the political and economic crises that have led to severe food and medicine shortages. But countries around the world say the Venezuelan leader is only trying to tighten his grip on power.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega

Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz is a former ally turned vocal critic of President Nicolas Maduro

Attorney General launches court challenge

On Thursday, the office of Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz submitted a court claim in an attempt to suspend the assembly's installation. The request, seen as a move to circumvent the Maduro-friendly Supreme Court, was "based on suspected crimes committed" during last Sunday's election of the 545-seat assembly, her office said on Twitter.

The country's opposition boycotted the vote, arguing that the rules were rigged to benefit the government given that nearly all the candidates were Maduro supporters.

The election also drew criticism from Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, and the European Union and saw the United States impose sanctions on the socialist nation.

The South American free-trade bloc Mercosur said it was preparing to suspend oil-rich Venezuela until the country restores democracy and ends human rights violations. 

nm/ng (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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