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Venezuela's opposition leader Lopez vows to face arrest

Venezuela's wanted opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has said he will face the possibility of arrest by taking part in a public march. Security forces had earlier stepped up their hunt for Lopez.

Lopez urged supporters to join him in a march to the interior ministry on Tuesday, when he said he would present a petition demanding an investigation into the government's role in protesters' deaths.

"If anyone has decided to illegally arrest and jail me, you know I will be there to take on the persecution... I have nothing to fear; I have not done anything illegal," said Lopez. The opposition leader said he would also be calling for an end to political repression and the disarmament of pro-government, paramilitary militias.

Authorities accused Lopez of murder and terrorism connected with the violence that has surrounded anti-government protests during the past week. On Wednesday, three protesters - two students and a pro-government demonstrator - were

shot dead.

Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez confirmed on Sunday that an arrest warrant had been issued against Lopez for allegedly being responsible for the demonstrations and subsequent deaths. The home of Lopez' parents was searched by police late on Saturday, with security forces saying on Sunday that the hunt for him had been intensified.

An 'obvious' diversion

Lopez' fellow opposition leader Henrique Capriles - who stood unsuccessfully as candidate in last year's presidential election - on Sunday urged supporters to continue to demonstrate non-violently.

"Don't let those who have an interest in violence trap you into an agenda that plays into the hands of those who want to hide the problems which we have in this country," said Capriles, also voicing support for Lopez and claiming the government was trying to create an "obvious" diversion.

"There is so much unhappiness out there," said Capriles, referring to rampant inflation of more than 50 percent, as well as widespread shortages of basic goods such as toilet paper and milk. Oil-rich Venezuela remains mired in a deepening economic crisis, which critics blame on policies that President Nicolas Maduro inherited from fellow socialist Hugo Chavez.

Maduro, who was elected last year following the death of Chavez, claims the protests are a "coup d'etat in the making" and accuses Lopez, among others, of being a "fascist."

rc/av (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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