CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – Police broke into Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma’s office and carted off the longtime critic of Venezuela’s socialist government, adding to tensions on the anniversary of the outbreak of protests that paralysed the nation a year ago.
President Nicolas Maduro took to television and radio to say that Ledezma, one of the most vocal opposition leaders, would be punished for trying to sow unrest in Venezuela, which is struggling with severe economic problems.
Emotions were already running high before dozens of men in flak jackets and camouflage uniforms smashed down the door of Ledezma’s office and forcibly carried him out of the building.
As news of the incursion spread across the capital, people spontaneously banged pots from their windows in protest while drivers tapped rhythms on their car horns in rush hour traffic. As night fell, a few dozen people vented their anger in front of the headquarters of the intelligence service police, where Ledezma was thought to be.
“He’ll be held accountable for all his crimes,” Maduro said in a speech that TV and radio stations across the country were required to carry.
Last week, Maduro named Ledezma among government critics and Western powers he accused of plotting a coup to bring down the government, one of more than a dozen such denunciations Maduro has made since taking power in 2013. Ledezma mocked the accusation in multiple interviews, saying the real destabilising force in Venezuela was the government’s corruption.
Tensions have been running high in Venezuela this week, with the one-year anniversary of the start of weeks of anti-government street protests that choked the country with tear gas and smoke from flaming barricades and resulted in more than 40 deaths. National police arrested several other mayors and former mayors during that unrest, including Leopoldo Lopez, who is considered by human rights groups as Latin America’s most high-profile political prisoner.
Allies of Ledezma called for more protests Friday to demand his immediate release, a call echoed by Human Rights Watch.