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Venezuela opposition leader sentenced

September 11, 2015

Leopoldo Lopez has been convicted of inciting violence during the 2014 street protest movement in Caracas. One of his supporters was killed as pro-Lopez demonstrators clashed with government loyalists outside the court.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Gutierrez

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was convicted for inciting violence and sentenced to 13 years in prison on Thursday for his leading role in the 2014 street protests against the government of President Nicolas Maduro that spiralled into bloodshed, killing more than 40 people.

One man was killed and several people were injured outside the Caracas courthouse on Thursday when supporters of Lopez clashed with government loyalists as they awaited the 44-year-old opposition politician's verdict.

Lopez still serves as the leader of the party Voluntad Popular, or Popular Will, which he founded in 2009 in a reaction to increasing restrictions on individual freedoms in Venezuela. He was arrested in February on the charges varying from terrorism and murder to arson.

Popular Will proponents say government forces were to blame for the violent turns in the demonstrations that left dozens dead. Lopez has maintained that he only ever called for peaceful protests.

Demonstrator killed outside courthouse

His supporters arrived early in the morning to wave banners and pray, while red-shirted pro-government demonstrators arrived and began chanting that Lopez was a murderer. The government supporters also threw bottles at Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, as she made her way through the police barricade to the courthouse.

Police in riot gear tried to separate the two sides, but were unable to prevent the small outbreaks of violence that injured at least two women and claimed the life of 66-year-old Popular Will member Horacio Blanco. As the trial began, Lopez's defenders hailed Blanco as a martyr. His cause of death was not immediately clear.

Lopez's arrest and imprisonment has been condemned by Amnesty International and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

His popularity has soared during his time in jail, outstripping that of President Maduro.

es/bw (AP, Reuters)