Caracas, April 30: A group of armed men taking orders from Venezuela's self-declared President Juan Guaido on Tuesday freed prominent opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez after five years in detention in what looks to be a significant triumph for the movement against the embattled President Nicolas Maduro. Venezuela Crisis: Over 3 Lakh Children Forced to Live As Migrants and Refugees in Colombia, Says UN.
Lopez was arrested in 2014 and later sentenced to 13 years and nine months for inciting violence during a period of anti-government protests back in a judicial process condemned by international human rights groups. He had been under house arrest since 2017.
In a video posted on Twitter just before the operation got underway, Guaido said the day marked the beginning of the final phase to bring an end to the regime in Venezuela and begin a democratic transition in the nation.
"Today begins Operation Freedom for all of Venezuela," he said, surrounded by a group of soldiers. He called on the rest of the armed forces to join the "non-violent" movement, Efe news reported. The video posted on Twitter showed the released opposition leader standing next to Guaido and speaking to apparent members of the National Guard.
"I have been freed by soldiers on the order of the Constitution and President Guaido. I am at Carlota (military) Base. We all need to mobilize. It's time to conquer freedom," said Lopez. Venezuela's Communications Minister said the government of Maduro was confronting a coup.
"We inform the people of Venezuela that we are currently confronting and deactivating a small group of traitor military personnel," he said. Venezuela Suffers Second Country-wide Power Blackout.
Guaido declared himself interim President on January 23 in a direct challenge to leftist leader Maduro's authority and has since won the backing of dozens of powerful nations, including the US and most of the European Union.