Officials in Venezuela order arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo López


Demonstrators march Thursday in Caracas during a protest against President Nicolas Maduro's government. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/REUTERS)

A Venezuelan court ordered the arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo López on Thursday on charges including murder and terrorism linked to street protests that resulted in the deaths of three people Wednesday.

Using a slogan “The Exit,” the U.S.-educated López has for two weeks helped to organize sporadic demonstrations around the country to denounce President Nicolás Maduro for failing to control inflation, crime and product shortages.

The president accuses López of sowing violence to try to stage a coup similar to one 12 years ago that briefly ousted Hugo Chávez, though there is little indication that the protests could topple Maduro.

“Without a doubt, the violence was created by small groups coordinated, exalted and financed by Leopoldo López,” said Jorge Rodriguez, a leader of the ruling Socialist Party and mayor of the Caracas area, where Wednesday’s biggest marches took place.

Shortly before a Caracas court upheld a request from the public prosecutor’s office to order López’s arrest, the opposition leader blamed armed government supporters for firing on protesters.

“The government is playing the violence card, and not for the first time. They’re blaming me without any proof. . . . I have a clear conscience because we called for peace,” López told Reuters.

“We won’t retreat and we can’t retreat because this is about our future, about our children, about millions of people.”

On Thursday, López was with his lawyers at his home in the same wealthy eastern district of Chacao where he was once mayor, his Popular Will political party said. Police briefly visited the party’s headquarters, witnesses said, but then departed.

With many Caracas residents staying home Thursday, there were sporadic student protests around the city. Some students blocked streets and burned tires.

“We want solutions to problems, not endless confrontation and violence,” said student Manuel Armas, 19, outside Alejandro Humboldt University, where about 200 protesters waved banners reading, “No more blood.”

Students were also in the streets in western Andean regions, where there have been violent clashes in recent days. The fatalities Wednesday included two students and a community activist from a pro-government neighborhood in the poor west end of Caracas.

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