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The World; A Lightning Rod for Venezuela's Political Strife
Los Angeles Times - Los Angeles, Calif.
Subjects: Politics; Candidates; Conservatism; Assassinations & assassination attempts; Elections -- Venezuela
Author: Kraul, Chris
Date: Jul 19, 2006
Start Page: A.4
Section: Main News; Part A; Foreign Desk
Abstract (Document Summary)

Although [Hugo Chavez] opponents say all dissidents are being targeted, [Leopoldo Lopez] seems to be the object of a full-out campaign. The government has filed 26 criminal charges against him going back to 1998, with counts including illegal campaign financing and violation of building codes. Conviction on any one of them could result in a jail term. Lopez denies the charges, one of which is related to the coup.

Lopez distances himself from the coup organizers and says he refused to sign the decree by coup leader Pedro Carmona that in effect canceled Venezuela's Constitution. As for [Ramon Rodriguez Chacin]'s arrest, Lopez insists that he and several of his police officers were invited by a neighboring mayor to take custody of the minister to protect him from an angry crowd that had surrounded the building where he was in hiding.

Carlos Escarra, a powerful pro-Chavez deputy in the National Assembly, denied that Lopez was being politically targeted, though he acknowledged that he thought all coup and strike leaders should be in jail. He said rule of law was allowing Lopez to continue serving as mayor despite criminal charges that, under other circumstances, might disqualify him.

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