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Venezuela arrests two opposition leaders in growing crackdown

After two key opposition figures were arrested, US President Trump said he held his Venezuelan counterpart Maduro "personally responsible." Venezuela has attempted to quash protests by blaming the opposition and the US.

Watch video 04:28

Venezuela arrests - Antonietta Ledezma speaks with DW

Venezuela's domestic intelligence service on Tuesday arrested two opposition leaders following a controversial election of an all-powerful legislative body.

Leopoldo Lopez and Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma have been vocal critics of the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

In a tweet, Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, posted a video showing the pro-democracy activist being detained by Venezuelan authorities.

"12:27 in the morning: the moment when the dictatorship abducts Leopoldo at my house. We will not bow," Tintori wrote in the tweet.

Both leaders were serving prison sentences under house arrest. 

The Supreme Court said Tuesday the two had been sent back to jail for making political statements in violation of the terms of their house arrest and because they were planning to flee. 

Juan Gutierrez, Lopez's lawyer, has dismissed the court's explanation as false, saying in a tweet that there is "no legal justification to revoke the house arrest measure."

In February, a court upheld a 14-year sentence for Lopez for allegedly inciting violence at deadly anti-governments protests in 2014. He was released from prison in July and placed under house arrest.

Read: 5 things to understand about oil-rich, cash-poor Venezuela

Ledezma's daughter: 'I am worried about my father'

In an interview with DW, Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma's daughter, Antonietta Ledezma, said that she was worried about her father's well-being.

"I am in complete fear for his physical health, for his emotional health. I am terrified because I know that the repression of Nicolas Maduro is capable of doing anything. I am desperate to know where my father is," she told DW.

Antonietta Ledezma accused authorities of breaking the law.

"Without any sort of notification the political police of Maduro just knock on our door and just kidnapped my father just like that. My father had denounced the critical situation that we're going through in Venezuela, and that was reason enough for Maduro to throw him back in jail.

"We're talking about the elected and reelected mayor of the capital of my country, of Caracas."

A video posted by Gaby Arellano, a parliamentarian with the opposition-controlled National Assembly, purportedly shows Venezuelan intelligence agents escorting Ledezma - still wearing his pajamas - from his residence in the middle of the night.

The Caracas mayor was placed in house arrest in 2015 for health reasons after being arrested on conspiracy and racketeering charges.

US and EU react

The US holds Maduro "personally responsible" for the safety of the two opposition leaders, US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday in a statement.

Lopez and Ledezma were "political prisoners being held illegally by the regime," Trump said. 

"The United States holds Maduro - who publicly announced just hours earlier that he would move against his political opposition - personally responsible for the health and safety of Mr Lopez, Mr Ledezma, and any others seized."  

The US State Department said earlier on Tuesday that the arrests were further evidence Maduro "is an authoritarian ruler who is not willing to respect fundamental human rights." Washington on Monday added the Venezuelan leader to a list of high-ranking officials targeted by financial sanctions.

The European Union called the arrests a "step in the wrong direction." The EU had already announced the previous day that it had "grave doubts" about recognizing the vote, urging Caracas to end a four-month crackdown on protests that has left more than 120 people dead.

"A few weeks ago we had welcomed the transfer of Leopoldo Lopez from his prison into house arrest," Catherine Ray, a spokeswoman for the EU's diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini, said.

"We expect more information from the Venezuelan authorities on their situation which is still unclear."

Separately, the head of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, called for the bloc to consider imposing sanctions against Maduro and his aides.

Read: Venezuela: Democracy under fire

Controversial vote

The arrests came a day after Venezuelan electoral officials announced the results of an internationally-condemned election for an all-powerful constituent assemblythat supersedes powers of the parliament. Opposition parties boycotted the vote, saying it was a ploy aimed at consolidating Maduro's power.

Voter turnout for the 545-member constituent assembly reached 41.5 percent despite the boycott, according to National Electoral Council chief Tibisay Lucena. 

Since April 1, dozens have been killed and hundreds more injured and detained during anti-government protests. Maduro has attempted to quell the demonstrations and rally support by describing them as a US-led conspiracy to unseat him.

Read more: US slaps sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

However, Maduro has failed to redress chronic shortages of food, medicine and other basic goods, and rising criminal violence.

ss/kms (EFE, AFP, Reuters)

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