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Venezuela's opposition leader Lopez calls for continued protests

Having been transferred to house arrest from prison, Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has urged the opposition to President Nicolas Maduro to continue protesting. Maduro accuses Lopez of being a terrorist.

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Freed Venezuelan opposition leader vows to fight on

Lopez - Venezuela's most prominent jailed opposition leader - was transferred from military prison to house arrest on Saturday, the country's Supreme Court said Saturday, citing health concerns.

Court President Maikel Moreno also said that the court would re-evaluate Lopez's case due to "serious signs of irregularities."

The 46-year-old leader of the Popular Will party was jailed in 2014 for allegedly inciting anti-government protests that left more than 40 people dead and many more wounded. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison in what human rights groups and the opposition claimed were politically motivated charges.

"We are thrilled that Leopoldo Lopez is at home with his family. They should give full freedom to him and all the political prisoners," fellow opposition leader Henrique Capriles said on Twitter.

Lopez emerged from his house just a few hours after his transfer and energized the assembled crowd by waving a Venezuelan flag and shouting, "Yes, we can!" 

Lopez also vowed to keep fighting against the government of President Nicholas Maduro. "I maintain my firm opposition to this regime," he said in a statement read by a party leader. "I reiterate my commitment to fight until we win Venezuela's freedom." 

Maduro responded to Lopez in televised remarks later in the day. The president called for the released leader to give a message of "peace and rectification."

Maduro said he respected the Supreme Court's decision to release Lopez and hoped the move would lead to reconciliation "because the nation wants peace."

Calls for release

Opposition and world leaders had long called for Lopez's release, including US President Donald Trump who met with the political leader's wife, Lilian Tintori, at the White House in February.

A White House statement greeted the news of Lopez's release on Saturday: "We welcome Leopoldo Lopez's release from prison, however his confinement under house arrest and continued denial of basic human rights is unacceptable to the United States."

"All Venezuelans should be able to express their political beliefs freely and the United States continues to call for the immediate release of all political prisoners held by the Maduro regime," the statement added.

Ongoing protests

Lopez's release from house arrest came as Venezuelans continued protests that have been ongoing for three months and claimed at least 90 lives, injuring many more.

The opposition is calling for early elections to oust Maduro from office in order to save the country from an economic and political downward spiral.  

Maduro supporters demonstrate at the National Assembly

Maduro supporters demonstrate at the National Assembly as opposition deputies held a special session on Independence Day

Rewriting a constitution

Leftist President Maduro plans to form an assembly tasked with rewriting the constitution that opponents say is designed to entrench dictatorship. 

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85% of Venezuelans oppose constitution changes

Voting for the constituent assembly is scheduled for July 30. The opposition plans a boycott.

The release of Lopez suggests the president may want to release some pressure as opposition anger boils over.

"It is a gesture of weakness of the Maduro regime and of the opposition's strength," Lopez's lawyer Javier Cremades said. "It is a step forward, and very positive news."

Attorney General Luisa Ortega held a press conference

Attorney General Luisa Ortega held a press conference after breaking ranks with the government

Troublesome attorney general

The Supreme Court is stacked with pro-Maduro allies, but cracks in the ruling clique began to emerge when Attorney General Luisa Ortega broke ranks with the government and alleged rights abuses and erosion of democracy under the Maduro government.

"They've frozen my bank account, they've frozen my assets, and they've banned me from leaving the country. It appears that defending the constitution constitutes a crime," Ortega said last week, waving a small blue book of the charter written under Maduro's predecessor and mentor, the late Hugo Chavez, in 1999.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to rule soon whether to suspend Ortega and put her on trial after authorities accused her of misconduct.

The court has appointed Katherine Harrington as deputy prosecutor. She was one of seven officials sanctioned by the United States in 2015 for alleged corruption and rights abuses.

Maduro still has the loyalty of military top brass, a fact that analysts say is keeping him in power. 

cb, jbh/jm (AP, AFP)

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