Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez on trial

Lilian Tintori holds a poster of her husband, Leopoldo Lopez
Lilian Tintori holds a poster of her her husband, who has been in custody for five months

The trial of one of Venezuela's main opposition leaders, Leopoldo Lopez, has begun in the capital, Caracas.

He is accused of inciting violence during anti-government demonstrations.

Mr Lopez has been in custody since 18 February, when he handed himself in to the authorities. He denies all the charges.

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Venezuela earlier this year in months of protests against rising inflation and crime.

Mr Lopez, 43, has accused the government of President Nicolas Maduro of jailing Venezuelans for seeking democratic change.

Other opposition activists detained during the protests have also appeared in court in Caracas..

There is heavy police presence and road blocks near the Justice Palace.

But hundreds of supporters, including Mr Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, and parents, have gathered outside the court to call for his release.

'Failed socialist policies'

The street protests began in late January, in the western states of Tachira and Merida.

Opposition leaders seized the moment and called for a big anti-government march in Caracas a few weeks later, on 12 February.

The marches were largely peaceful, but descended into violence in the late afternoon
Mr Lopez handed himself in during a mass protest in Caracas

Mr Lopez was among the most active leaders. He founded a movement to advocate a change of government using the hashtag #lasalida, which in Spanish means both "the exit" and "the solution".

The government urged its supporters to take to the streets in the same day, in a rival march. Three people died in incidents at the end of the marches.

The authorities accused Mr Lopez of inciting violence and encouraging demonstrators to vandalise government buildings.

He went into hiding after being charged, but announced he was going to hand himself in during an opposition demonstration through the streets of Caracas on 18 February.

Mr Lopez has been in jail ever since. He has been an outspoken critic of Mr Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, who died in March 2013.

Like other opposition leaders, he blames 15 years of failed socialist policies for the economic decline of Venezuela, a major oil producer.

Mr Lopez faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail if convicted.

A total of 42 people, both supporters and opponents of the government, have died in the protest-related violence.

Thousands of demonstrators have been detained since the protests started, but most of them have since been released.

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