Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez emerged from days of hiding and surrendered to police before thousands of supporters Tuesday, saying he hopes his arrest awakens Venezuela to the corruption and economic disaster caused by 15 years of socialist rule.
Speaking with a megaphone to more than 10,000 people, Lopez said that he didn’t fear going to jail to defend his beliefs and constitutional right to peacefully protest against President Nicolas Maduro’s government.
“If my jailing serves to awaken a people, serves to awaken Venezuela ... then it will be well worth the infamous imprisonment imposed upon me directly, with cowardice, by Nicolas Maduro,” Lopez told the sea of supporters who were dressed in white to symbolize nonviolence. Venezuela’s red, yellow and blue flag hung from his shoulders.
The U.S.-educated Lopez was taken to a military base outside the capital. His Popular Will party says he was expected to appear before a civilian judge today on charges that include homicide and inciting violence during protests last week in which three people were killed as government forces clashed with protesters.
The threat of more violence hung over Tuesday’s demonstration as Maduro led a rival march to denounce what he calls a “fascist” plot to overthrow him. But Lopez’s repeated appeals for restraint, a strong police presence and heavy rain appeared to calm emotions and there were no reports of major violence in the capital.