The Latest: US suggests it might want Maduro out of power

CARACAS, Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The latest on the political situation in Venezuela (all times local):

5:05 p.m.

The U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson says Washington is very troubled by developments in Venezuela, where socialist President Nicolas Maduro has just pushed through the divisive election of a constituent assembly that will rewrite the country’s constitution.

Maduro has said he will use the assembly to punish his political opponents, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that the U.S. fears the violence could worsen in Venezuela.

In Tillerson’s words: “We are evaluating all of our policy options as to what can we do to create a change of conditions where either Maduro decides he doesn’t have a future, and wants to leave of his own accord, or we can return the government processes back to their constitution.”

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3:15 p.m.

The United States says it is holding Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro “personally responsible” for the health and safety of two opposition leaders who were taken by authorities from the homes where they were under house arrest.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders says the detentions of Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma followed the Maduro government’s “outrageous seizure of power through a sham election” over the weekend.

Sanders says Lopez and Ledezma were being “unjustly” held by the Venezuelan government and that Maduro is responsible for their well-being.

Lopez was detained after anti-government protests and sentenced to more than a decade in prison. He was released last month to serve the rest of his term under house arrest. Ledezma, a former Caracas mayor, was also detained in 2015 and has been under house arrest.

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3:05 p.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is urging all Venezuelans to make all possible efforts to lower tensions, prevent further violence and find avenues for political dialogue.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Tuesday Guterres’ message is directed particularly to “those representing powers of the state.”

He said the secretary-general believes political negotiations between Venezuela’s government and opposition are urgently needed and is convinced “the only way forward is a political solution.”

Dujarric said Guterres “has taken note” of the judicial system’s decision to revoke the house arrest of two opposition leaders, sending them back to prison.

When pressed for the U.N. chief’s reaction, Dujarric said “his overall message is of concern for the increase in political tensions and the country moving away from a path to finding a peaceful solution.”

Opposition figures Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma were taken from their homes in the middle of the night. Venezuela’s Supreme Court said they had violated the terms of their house arrest.

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2:05 p.m.

Supporters of Leopoldo Lopez have a released a video he taped a week before state security agents whisked him back to a military prison. It shows the opposition leader calling on Venezuelans to be firm in resisting President Nicolas Maduro.

He also announces that his wife is pregnant. The 6-minute long video shared Tuesday shows Lopez rubbing his wife’s belly and saying he has “one more reason to fight for Venezuela.” He calls the pregnancy “the best news I’ve received in the last 3 1/2 years” — a reference to the time he spent behind bars.

Lopez was released from the Ramo Verde prison in June and granted house arrest to serve out the remainder of his 13-year sentence for inciting violence at opposition rallies. The couple has at times been allowed conjugal visits.

Lopez says he recorded the video knowing he might be imprisoned again — as he was early Thursday.

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1:35 p.m.

Three legislators in Venezuela say they are breaking with the pro-government Great Patriotic Pole party and forming a new faction in opposition to President Nicolas Maduro’s rewrite of the nation’s constitution.

Lawmaker Eustoquio Contreras told legislators at the opposition-controlled National Assembly Tuesday that the nation is in crisis and headed toward a civil war that must be avoided.

The Great Patriotic Pole is a coalition of 17 parties formed in 2012 to support the re-election of the late President Hugo Chavez, who bequeathed power to Maduro.

The legislators say their new faction will be called the “Parliamentary Socialist Bloc.”

The dissentions are among the highest-profile to emerge recently from among pro-government leaders.

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11:30 a.m.

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis is rejecting the idea of EU sanctions against Venezuela, saying they could hurt the population.

He said Tuesday that Spain instead favors individual measures such as travel restrictions against those responsible for the situation.

Dastis said there is “great concern over the arrests of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

Dastis ruled out recalling the Spanish ambassador, saying he was more effective in Venezuela helping Spaniards living there.

The U.S. government on Monday imposed sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro over Sunday’s disputed election of a pro-government assembly with almost unlimited political powers.

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11:20 a.m.

An attorney for former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma is denying the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s assertion that he had faced legal restrictions on his ability to speak with the media while under house arrest.

Omar Estacio tells news outlet VivoPlay that the high court’s claims that Ledezma violated the terms of his house arrest by talking to the press and allegedly being part of an “escape plan” are false.

State security agents removed Ledezma and opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez from his their homes early Tuesday. The court says they violated terms of their house arrest.

Ledezma was detained in 2015 and had been serving his sentence from home.

Both men had recently posted videos online denouncing President Nicolas Maduro’s election for a special assembly given essentially unlimited powers and tasked with rewriting the constitution.

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11:15 a.m.

The United Nations’ human rights chief says he is “deeply concerned” by the re-arrest of two leading Venezuelan opposition figures and is calling for the release of all people held for exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein urged Venezuelan authorities in a statement released in Geneva Tuesday “not to make an already extremely volatile situation even worse through the use of excessive force.”

Zeid also called for “prompt, effective and independent” investigations into 10 deaths in clashes between protesters and police over the weekend. He appealed to all sides to refrain from violence.

Opposition figures Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma, were taken from their homes in the middle of the night. Venezuela’s Supreme Court said they had violated the terms of their house arrest.

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10:45 a.m.

The U.S. State Department says it’s “deeply concerned with the Venezuelan government’s decision to re-arrest opposition leaders Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma.”

It says the midnight detentions are further evidence that President Nicolas Maduro “is an authoritarian ruler who is not willing to respect fundamental human rights.”

Venezuela’s Supreme Court says the two were detained early Tuesday because they violated terms of their house arrest. Both had been held for allegedly stirring up violence in earlier protests.

Washington on Monday added Maduro to a steadily growing list of high-ranking Venezuelan officials targeted by financial sanctions. So far, the Trump administration has not delivered on threats to sanction Venezuela’s oil industry, which could undermine Maduro’s government but raise U.S. gas prices and deepen Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis.

The moves follow Sunday’s election of a pro-government assembly with almost absolute power to reshape the country’s political system.

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10:15 a.m.

Venezuela’s Supreme Court says two leading opposition figures have been jailed because they violated the terms of their house arrest.

The nation’s highest court says Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma were removed from their homes early Tuesday after “official intelligence sources” determined there was a “escape plan” involving both men.

The court added that Lopez isn’t permitted to engage in any sort of political activism and former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma is prohibited from speaking to media outlets.

Lopez was detained three years ago after protests against Maduro’s government and sentenced to more than a decade in prison. He was released last month to serve out his term on house arrest.

The president of Venezuela’s opposition-dominated legislature says the allegations are “ridiculous” and the jailings “absolutely arbitrary.”

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9 a.m.

An attorney says that Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has been returned to the military prison from which he had been recently released.

Lopez’s attorney Juan Carlos Gutierrez tells the Exitos radio station that the 46-year-old Lopez was pulled from his home and was taken to the Ramo Verde prison at about 3 a.m.

He says the government’s decision to return Lopez to prison is “completely arbitrary” and says Lopez had obeyed the conditions imposed on his house arrest.

Lopez had been released from Ramo Verde on July 8 after serving three years of a 13-year sentence for inciting violence at opposition rallies. Many human rights groups considered him a political prisoner.

It’s not clear if former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma also was taken to prison. Allies posted video online of him being taken from his home by security agents.

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4:05 a.m.

Allies of two Venezuelan opposition leaders say Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma have been taken by authorities from the homes where they were under house arrest.

Video posted on the Twitter account of Lopez’s wife early Tuesday shows a man being taken away from a Caracas home by state security agents. Wife Lilian Tintori says in a tweet that “they’ve just taken Leopoldo from the house. We don’t know where he is.”

Lopez was detained three years after protests against President Nicolas Maduro’s government and sentenced to more than a decade in prison on charges that include inciting protesters to violence. He was released last month to serve the rest of his term under house arrest. Ledezma, a former Caracas mayor, was also detained in 2015 and has been under house arrest.

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12 a.m.

President Nicolas Maduro brushed off new U.S. sanctions on him and condemnation at home and abroad of the newly chosen constitutional assembly, saying the vote has given him a popular mandate to radically overhaul Venezuela’s political system.

Maduro said Monday evening he had no intention of deviating from his plans to rewrite the constitution and go after a string of enemies, from independent Venezuelan news channels to gunmen he claimed were sent by neighboring Colombia to disrupt the vote as part of an international conspiracy led by the man he calls “Emperor Donald Trump.”

“They don’t intimidate me. The threats and sanctions of the empire don’t intimidate me for a moment,” Maduro said on national television. “I don’t listen to orders from the empire, not now or ever … Bring on more sanctions, Donald Trump.”

Categories: International News