Venezuela court orders arrest of senior opposition leader, as President Nicholas Maduro clings to power

Venezuela’s top court has ordered the arrest and detention of a senior opposition leader behind recent protests, as President Nicholas Maduro seeks to hold onto power amid mounting international condemnation.

The Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Ramon Muchacho, one of Caracas’s five mayors, for refusing an order to remove barricades set up by anti-government protesters. Critics of the government said the move was a violation of due process and a blatant attempt to punish opponents.

Mr Muchacho, who is mayor of the Caracas district of Chacao, did not appear at the hearing and said on Twitter: “All the weight of revolutionary injustice has fallen on my shoulders.”

He later emailed supporters, saying: “We are being condemned for doing our job, for guaranteeing the legitimate right to peaceful protest and the right of all Venezuelans to exercise their civil and political rights.”

He added: “The coming hours will be difficult for me.”

The move comes after Mr Maduro pressed ahead with a vote to establish a controversial new assembly that has been packed with his supporters and which his critics say will have unlimited powers. There is a dispute as to how many people took part in a vote for the assembly last month, but opposition parties boycotted the process.

The move was condemned by the EU, US and Britain. Mr Maduro denounced the criticism from Washington as nothing more than the latest attempt by the US to interfere in the country’s affairs. The head of the CIA suggested last month the agency was working with Mexico and Colombia to bring about “a transition” in Caracas.

Polls suggest that Mr Maduro’s approval rating may be as low as 20 per cent. Some observers believe that many supporters of the late Hugo Chavez, Mr Maduro’s predecessor, have lost sympathy as the economic situation has worsened, and food shortages intensified.

Last month, the US introduced new sanctions against Mr Maduro and a dozen of his closest supporters.

At least 124 people have been killed in protests against the government, yet it is unclear precisely how many of those were opponents of the government and how many were police or troops.

UN human rights investigators believe security forces were responsible for at least 46 deaths, and pro-government…

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