Venezuela has jailed opposition leader Daniel Ceballos who was under house arrest, and expelled visiting MPs from Ecuador. The opposition has called for early elections and is preparing to hold nationwide rallies.
Venezuelan opposition politician Daniel Ceballos was jailed Saturday after intelligence agents picked him up at his home before dawn, his wife said. The former San Cristobal mayor had already been under house arrest when he was spirited away in the early hours, which his wife captured on video and posted on Twitter.
Opposition figures said the detention was meant as intimidation amid calls for nationwide rallies on the first of the month to pressure President Nicolas Maduro to hold a referendum over early elections.
"Everything the government does is done to make people afraid, but the more outrages the government commits, the more people will march on September 1," opposition leader Henrique Capriles said. He has joined other opposition figures in condemning the decision to jail Ceballos.
The interior and justice ministries said Venezuela's intelligence services, Sebin, learned that Ceballos was getting ready to escape in order to coordinate violent incidents across Venezuela.
"The evidence compiled will allow us to continue advancing in necessary investigations to prevent, uncover and neutralize any act that aims to destabilize our democratic system," the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
Ceballos was mayor of a city near the Colombian border that had organized anti-government protests. He was arrested in March 2014 and accused of inciting the unrest in which 43 people were killed. He was transferred to house arrest a year ago for medical reasons.
Ecuadorian delegation deported
Ceballos' detention coincides with the expulsion of a delegation of lawmakers from Ecuador who had met in the Venezuelan capital Caracas with opposition leaders.
The lawmakers "engaged in proselytizing and destabilizing activities in a sovereign country, (which is) expressly prohibited by Venezuelan migratory norms," Venezuela's foreign ministry said in a statement.
Ecuador's foreign ministry said it was "concerned" while demanding an explanation from Caracas.
Food shortages, inflation topping 700 percent, a deep recession plus rising crime have all fueled calls for a change after 17 years of socialist rule under Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.
Electoral authorities have said it is unlikely that a vote could be scheduled this year. But the opposition has questioned the electoral commission's political independence and accused it of stalling.
Ceballos was initially arrested along with several other activists of his centrist Popular Will party, including Leopoldo Lopez. He's already served a one-year sentence for disobeying an order to remove barricades during the street protests, but still faces civil rebellion charges.
The pro-US opposition has made the release of Lopez, Ceballos and dozens of other activists it considers political prisoners a key demand. Maduro accuses the activists of trying to stage a coup.
jar/jm (AP, AFP)