Jailed Venezuela opposition leader urges more anti-Maduro protests

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Jailed Venezuela opposition leader urges more anti-Maduro protests

Caracas (AFP) - A prominent opposition leader jailed in Venezuela, Leopoldo Lopez, urged more street protests against the "tyranny" of President Nicolas Maduro, in a video message made in his cell.

Lopez, 46, however stressed several times that he backed only "peaceful" demonstrations.

Prosecutors in Venezuela say 65 people have died since April 1, when near-daily pro- and anti-Maduro rallies turned more violent, with protesters and security forces targeted.

The opposition and anti-Maduro protesters are demanding early elections to force out the widely unpopular president, who has ruled over the country's sharply declining economy.

Lopez, looking fit and wearing a white t-shirt and a crucifix around his neck in the video, expressed his "admiration for the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans" who had gone into the streets "for democracy."

He added that "rebellion, resistance and the protests are legitimate" against a government that was "despotic," "tyrannical" and hapless in the face of the economic crisis.

The struggle evinced by the protests, he said, was "historic" and "cannot end until we have reached victory."

It was not clear when exactly the video was recorded. The version released on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3X2a335pYHY&feature=youtu.be) on Sunday was timestamped "June 2017."

It was made public after Lopez, who was detained in 2014 and sentenced to 14 years behind bars on charges of inciting violence in anti-government protests, was visited in prison by Spanish former prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Zapatero is leading an effort to build dialogue between the opposition and Maduro's government to de-escalate the situation.

Lopez and Zapatero held a "conversation with much respect," according to a message on the opposition leader's Twitter account, which is handled by his wife Lilian Tintori.

Zapatero was accompanied by Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez and her brother Jorge Rodriguez, who is mayor of a Caracas district, the account said.