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Fiery Maduro foe Leopoldo Lopez wages battle from Venezuela jail

CARACAS, Venezuela--Moments before his dramatic arrest, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez told a sea of white-shirted supporters that he doesn't fear years behind bars if that's what it takes to open eyes to the damage done to Venezuela by 15 years of socialist rule.

“If my jailing serves to awaken a people, serves to awaken Venezuela ... then it will be well worth the infamous imprisonment imposed upon me directly, with cowardice” by President Nicolas Maduro, a defiant Lopez shouted through a megaphone Tuesday from atop a statue of 19th century Cuban independence hero Jose Marti in a Caracas plaza.

He then pushed his way through the crowd, waving a flower over his head, to a police line a few feet away and turned himself in to face charges blaming him for violence between opposition activists and pro-government forces last week. He was driven away in an armored vehicle, and a judge later ordered him held in jail before a court appearance Wednesday.

Friends and allies say the steely resolve exhibited at the rally is often seen in the man who competes in triathlons, is addicted to extreme sports and once escaped from the clutches of gun-firing bandits while stumping for votes in a pro-government slum. The trait has been evident in recent months as he emerged as head of an increasingly powerful opposition faction that is pushing for a stronger, but non-violent confrontation with the government.

Lopez, 42, surrendered to authorities after a weeklong manhunt to face charges including terrorism and murder stemming from the unrest that erupted after a big anti-government protest he led Feb. 12. Most demonstrators had gone home before the deadly clashes began.

Human rights group have condemned the charges against Lopez as being based on political conspiracy theories and not criminal evidence, while Secretary of State John Kerry warned that arresting the opposition firebrand would have a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression.

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Leopoldo Lopez, an ardent opponent of Venezuela's socialist government, kisses his wife Lilian Tintori before turning himself in to authorities, in Caracas on Tuesday, Feb. 18.

(AFP)

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