Venezuelans Prepare for More Protests as Lopez Jailed

Venezuelan protesters prepared for another night of confrontations with National Guard troops and armed groups as opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was ordered held at a military prison outside Caracas.

People were gathering in public plazas and major intersections of Caracas, dragging piles of trash into the streets, which they burn to block roads. As government helicopters flew overhead, President Nicolas Maduro addressed the nation in front of the presidential palace, saying a sixth person was killed this week and vowing to bring people attacking transport workers to justice.

“We’re going to catch them one by one,” Maduro said as he interviewed bus drivers who said they were attacked while working this week. “The people want justice.”

Opposition Governor Henrique Capriles blamed the government for the latest wave of violence, saying protesters were fired upon yesterday, and vowed not to be “forced” to negotiate with Maduro. Lopez, the leader of the Voluntad Popular party, was charged with inciting unrest and burning a public building, charges which could send him to prison for 10 years, his lawyer Bernardo Pulido said in an interview.

“A thin line has been crossed that separated what was a polarized country from a violent country,” said Javier Ciurlizza, director of the Latin America and Caribbean issues at the International Crisis Group. “The deaths since Feb. 12, government assaults on civil liberties, protesters and the opposition is creating a worrying spiral of violence from which Venezuela will find it difficult to recover.”

‘Last Chance’

Maduro today said the government is moving to take the CNN news channel off the country’s airwaves for reporting that Venezuela faces a civil war. Yesterday he called on Capriles and other opposition leaders to meet him Feb. 24, saying it was their “last chance.”

Opposition Mayor David Smolansky called for “massive” demonstrations tomorrow and Feb. 22 and said arrest warrants had been issued for other leaders of Lopez’s Voluntad Popular party.

As Maduro spoke today, newspaper El Universal posted photos of what it said were protesters blocking streets in the Altamira and La Trinidad neighborhoods of Caracas. Videos on social media and local press showed National Guard troops smashing car windows and firing tear gas canisters into apartment buildings last night. The videos could not be independently verified.

‘Terror and Barbarism’

“Yesterday was a night of terror and barbarism,” said Smolansky, mayor of El Hatillo, at a news conference in Caracas today. “We must maintain strength to stay in the streets and keep protesting.”

U.S. President Barack Obama, on a visit to Mexico yesterday, condemned the violence in Venezuela.

Struggling to rein in 56 percent inflation and a shortage of basic goods and medicines, Maduro this week announced plans to import $1 billion in food and medicine and to unveil a new currency auction system designed to help companies and individuals have more access to dollars. Details of the new law will be published tomorrow, he said.

Amid the political turmoil, Venezuelan bonds have posted the biggest losses in emerging markets this year after Ukraine, losing 11 percent, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s EMBIG index. The yield on Venezuela’s benchmark dollar bond fell 30 basis points, or 0.30 percentage point, to 15.57 percent today.

“The government is still united around the figure of President Nicolas Maduro, but the escalation of protests puts the stability of his government at risk,” Carlos Cardenas, a Latin American analyst at IHS Country Risk, said in a report today. “IHS expects the protests to escalate over the coming days.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Nathan Crooks in Caracas at ncrooks@bloomberg.net; Corina Pons in Caracas at crpons@bloomberg.net; Pietro D. Pitts in Caracas at ppitts2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andre Soliani at asoliani@bloomberg.net

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