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Venezuela's ruling party targets new opposition leader

25 february 2015, 13:39

 Lawmakers from Venezuela's ruling party said Tuesday they have asked prosecutors to investigate a leading opposition lawmaker for conspiring to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro, the latest attack on his opponents, AFP reports.

The move came after leaders of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela accused Julio Borges, a lawmaker for the opposition Justice First party, of participating in an alleged coup plot against Maduro.

"We believe there is enough evidence to strip him of his immunity and send him to jail," said Socialist lawmaker Dario Vivas in a statement released just before the weekly legislative session.

Speaking during the session, Borges did not refer to the allegation but called on the ruling party to stop treating the opposition with "frustration and hate."

The accusation against Borges echoes the charges against Antonio Ledezma, the opposition mayor of the capital Caracas, who was arrested last Thursday by a SWAT team that burst into his office and hauled him to jail.

Opposition leaders say Maduro's party is planning a vote to expel Borges from the National Assembly, where the Socialists have a large majority.

Borges is a leading figure in Justice First, the party of former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost the 2013 presidential election to Maduro after Socialist firebrand Hugo Chavez died in office.

The number two figure in the Socialist party, congressional majority leader Diosdado Cabello, said earlier this month that Borges was involved in a conspiracy to overthrow Maduro's government.

The Socialists accuse Borges of participating in a failed coup plot called "Operation Jericho" that supposedly involved disgruntled air force officers and was backed by the United States.

Like his late mentor Chavez, Maduro regularly denounces alleged coup plots and assassination attempts against him.

   New protest death 

The latest allegations come as the opposition seeks to capitalize on Venezuelans' exasperation with the country's floundering economy to win control of the National Assembly in elections due later this year.

Maduro's approval rating has fallen to around 20 percent as his government struggles to rein in annual inflation of 68.5 percent, end crippling shortages of basic goods and exit a recession exacerbated by the falling price of oil, the country's main export.

If Borges is expelled, it will be the fifth expulsion of an opposition lawmaker since Maduro's election.

If he is jailed, he would join both Ledezma and opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was arrested in February 2014 on charges of inciting violent protests that shook the country last year and left 43 people dead.

Protest violence flared again Tuesday when a 14-year-old boy was killed during a demonstration in San Cristobal, the western city that was the cradle of last year's unrest.

Authorities said the high school student had been hit in the head by a projectile during clashes between police and some 200 demonstrators outside a local university who were protesting against the economic crisis.

Prosecutors said they would charge a policeman in connection with the teen's death.

Protests in recent weeks have been much smaller than last year after the defense minister last month authorized the use of deadly force to maintain public order.

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