Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manhunt underway for opposition leader

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CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Saturday a police manhunt was underway for Leopoldo Lopez, the hard-line opposition leader behind anti-government demonstrations that ended with three deaths.

The socialist president's announcement came amid dueling pro-government and student-led opposition demonstrations held in different parts of the capital, Caracas.

Lopez "ordered all these violent kids, which he trained, to destroy the prosecutor's office and half of Caracas, and then goes into hiding," Maduro told thousands of supporters at a rally to denounce what he called a U.S.-backed, "fascist" plot to oust him from power. "Turn yourself in, coward."

U.S. officials have denied plotting to oust Maduro, and Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concern over the rising tensions and violence surrounding the protests.

"We are particularly alarmed by reports that the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained scores of anti-government protesters and issued an arrest warrant for opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez," he said in a statement. "These actions have a chilling effect on citizens' rights to express their grievances peacefully."

Maduro said security forces acting on a Feb. 12 arrest order are now looking for Lopez, who hasn't been seen since a Wednesday night news conference in which he vowed anti-government street protests would continue.

Maduro's comments seemed to confirm a report Thursday by local newspaper El Universal, which published what it said was a leaked copy of an arrest order for Lopez, on charges ranging from vandalism of public property to terrorism.

While cabinet officials and Maduro have blasted Lopez all week as the mastermind of Wednesday's student-led protests that ended in clashes with police and pro-government militias, no official had until now confirmed authorities were looking to arrest him. Aides to Lopez denied he's ducking arrest and say he remains in the country. His lawyers, have urged him to refrain from making public statements until one materializes.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2014 A6

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