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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Venezuelan Protest Leader Surrenders to Authorities

Video that is said to show a student protester who was killed in Venezuela last week.

The Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López came out of hiding on Tuesday, as promised, and surrendered to the authorities to face charges of terrorism. Mr. López, a Harvard-educated former mayor of a wealthy section of Caracas, is the political face of ongoing demonstrations against President Nicolás Maduro’s government.

The protests began last Wednesday and turned violent almost immediately. Three people were killed on the first day, and on Thursday the government issued an arrest warrant for Mr. López. One more protester died and several were gravely injured since.

Mr. López went into hiding, but remained present on social networks, tweeting furiously. In one message, he accused the government of plotting “to incriminate me for violent acts generated by them.” In another, he asked @Nicolasmaduro: don’t you have the guts to put me in jail? Or are you waiting for orders from Havana?”

The government and the opposition have traded barbs over who is responsible for the deaths of protesters, but investigative reporting by Últimas Noticias, the highest-circulation newspaper in Venezuela, suggests that state security forces were involved in the murder of one student, Bassil da Costa. In a video released Sunday, the newspaper presents a compilation of footage that appears to show officers with the Sebin, Venezuela’s intelligence police, along with plainclothes officers, firing weapons when Mr. Da Costa was killed. After the video went online, President Maduro fired the head of the Sebin and said some officers had left their barracks against his orders.

Inside Venezuela, social networks have been the main source of information on the protests, which were not covered by state television channels. President Maduro cut off NTN24, a Colombian cable channel that ran footage of the protests, saying in a statement that the network had tried to “foment anxiety about a coup d’état,” and that he “had to defend Venezuela’s peace.” (Hugo Pérez Hernáiz, a professor at the Central University of Venezuela, and David Smilde, a Venezuela expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, noted that viewers who left the channel on without turning off their televisions could still watch it.)

Twitter said the Venezuelan government then blocked access to images on its server, and several Venezuelan users tweeted screen shots of missing photos on their feeds.

On Sunday, Mr. López posted a video message on YouTube urging his followers to join him in a rally Tuesday, and said, “if there’s a decision to illegally imprison me, I’ll be there to accept this persecution, and this vile decision on the part of the government.”

The Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López’s video message urging his followers to rally on Tuesday.

True to his word, Mr. López showed up in Caracas alongside scores of supporters clad in all white, and turned himself in to members of the National Guard who were monitoring the protest â€" but not before delivering what might have been the speech of his political career. “This is a dark moment, in which criminals are rewarded by the government, and they want to jail Venezuelans that want peaceful, democratic, constitutional change,” he said. “If my imprisonment awakens the people, then it will be worth it.”

Rallies for and against the government in Venezuela on Tuesday.

Government supporters were also out in full force on Tuesday, after Mr. Maduro called for oil workers to stage a demonstration. Some 40,000 marched, according to the government-backed TelesurTV. “I am a son of the working class, and I will be loyal to you always,” Mr. Maduro told the crowd.

Remarks on Tuesday by President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela.

Images of the pro-government rally also made the rounds on Twitter.

Mr. Maduro confirmed on state television that Mr. López had been transferred to the Ramo Verde military prison for the night, the newspaper El Universal reported. “The political leader of Venezuela’s fascist right wing,” the president said, “is now in the hands of justice.”