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Venezuela opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez gets 13 years jail for 2014 unrest

Leopoldo Lopez venezuelaVenezuela opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has been sentenced to 13 years, 9 months in jail for his role in anti-government protests that rocked the South American country in 2014.

Telesur and NTN24 news sites reported that Lopez had been found guilty on charges of conspiracy and public incitement to delinquency.

Lopez’s opposition Voluntad Popular party also confirmed the sentence on social media, with party coordinator Freddy Guevara tweeting that Lopez had been “cowardly condemned” and given his supporters “more reason to fight”.

The sentence means Lopez will be unable to challenge President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela’s next presidential elections in 2019. Parliamentary elections are set to take place in December and reports suggest the opposition could garner enough support to challenge the majority enjoyed by Maduro’s ruling PSUV party.

Maduro, whose approval ratings have slumped since he was narrowly elected president in 2013 after the death of Hugo Chavez, has accused Lopez and the opposition of colluding with other countries, particularly the United States, to overthrow his government.

Lopez has been in custody in a military jail outside Caracas since he surrendered Feb. 18, 2014, to face a raft of charges. The most serious of which include murder and terrorism, were soon dropped.

The opposition leader had denied inciting anti-government protesters to set up street barricades and damage public property during three months of protests against the Maduro government, during which 43 people died on both sides of the political divide.

Prosecutors sought a 14-year sentence and based their case on a string of messages sent on social media they claimed proved Lopez had incited others to commit criminal damage.

Opposition and overseas politicians and human rights organizations have questioned the trial, in some cases labeling Lopez a political prisoner and demanded he be freed.

Lopez’s release had been a central demand by the United States for the normalization of diplomatic ties with Venezuela, which have long been frosty, but improved marginally since the U.S. began its political rapprochement with Cuba.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Venezuelan foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez on Tuesday to discuss Lopez’s case.

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