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Mayor of Venezuelan city arrested amid wave of protests

CARACAS, Venezuela--Agents of Venezuela's domestic intelligence service on Wednesday arrested the opposition mayor of a western city that has been a crucible of anti-government resistance and that spawned the current wave of protests.

San Cristobal Mayor Daniel Ceballos, who a top aide said was arrested in a Caracas hotel, became the second opposition leader jailed by Venezuela's socialist-led government since the unrest began last month. Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez is being held on charges of arson and conspiracy.

Ceballos, who was in Caracas for a meeting of opposition mayors, had been outspoken in his criticism of what he called repression by security forces in his city. His aide, Ronni Pavolini, said agents from the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, known by its Spanish initials SEBIN, arrested Ceballos.

“They took him out of the hotel in Caracas and took him to Helicoide (SEBIN headquarters),” Pavolini told The Associated Press.

Interior and Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres confirmed the arrest later on state television. “This is an act of justice for a mayor who not only did not meet his obligations as required by law and the constitution, but also facilitated and supported all the irrational violence in San Cristobal.”

The anti-government protests that have shaken Venezuela for more than a month began in early February with students in San Cristobal, an opposition stronghold along the border with Colombia. Since then it has seen intense clashes between authorities and protesters frustrated by soaring inflation, rampant violent crime and shortages of basic items such as cooking oil and toilet paper.

Late Wednesday, the federal prosecutor's office said that, according to preliminary information, National Guardsman Jhon Rafael Castillo Castillo, 23, was killed while breaking up protests near a local university in San Cristobal. That would be the fifth National Guardsmen killed during the protests.

Meanwhile, about 25 kilometers from San Cristobal, National Guardsmen firing plastic shotgun pellets and tear gas wounded at least 16 people in the town of Rubio as they cleared barricades that had been up for weeks, local officials said.

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