Security forces seize opposition leaders in Venezuela night raids

Security forces seize opposition leaders in night raids. Picture: RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
Security forces seize opposition leaders in night raids. Picture: RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
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Two of Venezuela’s leading opposition figures have been taken from their homes in the middle of the night by state security agents.

The developments appeared to be President Nicolas Maduro’s first moves against his enemies since a widely denounced vote giving his government nearly unlimited powers.

The wife of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez posted what appeared to be video of him being taken from their home after midnight.

“They’ve just taken Leopoldo from the house,” Lilian Tintori wrote on Twitter. “We don’t know where he is or where they’re taking him.”

Allies of former Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma posted video online of a man who appeared to be the opposition leader being taken by state security as a woman screams for help from neighbours.

“They’re taking Ledezma!” she cries. “It’s a dictatorship!”

Mr Lopez was detained three years ago after protests against Mr Maduro’s government and sentenced to more than a decade in prison on charges that include inciting protesters to violence. He was released last month to serve the rest of his term under house arrest.

Mr Ledezma, a former Caracas mayor, was also detained in 2015 and has been under house arrest.

Both have recently posted videos online denouncing Mr Maduro’s decision to hold a vote for a constitutional assembly with the power to overhaul Venezuela’s political system.

Mr Maduro said on Monday evening he had no intention of deviating from his plans to rewrite the constitution and go after a string of enemies, from independent Venezuelan news channels to gunmen he claimed were sent by neighbouring Colombia to disrupt the vote as part of an international conspiracy led by the man he calls “Emperor Donald Trump”.

“They don’t intimidate me. The threats and sanctions of the empire don’t intimidate me for a moment,” Mr Maduro said on national television.

“I don’t listen to orders from the empire, not now or ever ... Bring on more sanctions, Donald Trump.”

A few hours earlier, Washington added Mr Maduro to a steadily growing list of high-ranking Venezuelan officials targeted by financial sanctions, escalating a tactic that has so far failed to alter his socialist government’s behaviour.

For now, the Trump administration has not delivered on threats to sanction Venezuela’s oil industry, which could undermine Mr Maduro’s government but raise US fuel prices and deepen the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.